A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published  Friday, Aug.12, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 159
Jo Stuart
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A close encounter of the dangerous kind
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not every day do you escape the clutches of the Viper Lady and even stick her for the price of two drinks.

That's what happened Thursday night when a long-time reader said he met up with San José's most famous tourist trap.

The Viper Lady is one of a group of individuals who prey on male tourists. They invite their marks for drinks and then slip the victim a powerful drug.  When he awakens, he has revealed his credit card PIN numbers and other financial data.

The reader said he was approached by the woman about 8 p.m. near the Plaza de la Cultura. He was well-briefed on the activities of the gang because he has been reading about her.

He continued:

She presented herself as an American Airlines flight attendant. She was about 5-foot, 6-inches and wore a blue blazer.

She made her famous pitch in English: "Today's my birthday and I don't have anyone to celebrate it with. . . "  The reader played along even to the dangerous point of accompanying the woman to a nearby bar.

She ordered two rounds of cuba libres in
cans and insisted on paying. The tab was 1,500 colons, a bit more than $3. Her questions were continual: "Where are you from?"  "How long are you here?"  "Where are you staying?"

Tourists usually do not stick around to file police complaints.

Finally she decided to lure the reader into her web. "Why don't we go back to my hotel?"

The reader pretended to go along, seated the woman in a nearby taxi and, instead of getting in himself, just closed the door and walked away. That's when he saw nearby two men who probably were part of the gang, he said.

The reader, a long-time resident, said he was lucky to escape. The amiable robber is certainly a woman, he said. Debate has raged as to whether the Viper Lady is a man in women's clothes. And as a bit of new information, the reader reports that she has a mole on a cheek.

The Viper Lady has not been seen for months. Some say the gang works the beach communities in high season.

She and the gang will be back on the pedestrian mall tonight looking for a slightly tipsy tourist who does not read A.M. Costa Rica.

Danilovich gets $1 billion job from Bush at Millennium Corp.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President George Bush said Thursday he will choose John Danilovich,  former ambassador to Costa Rica, as head of the Millennium Challenge Corp., the White House said.

Bush created the corporation in January of 2004 as a vehicle of about $1 billion in governmental aid.  According to the corporation's Web site, the agency provides a type of aid called a “millennium challenge account,” to countries that meet certain criteria.  The key principles of the corporation are to provide an account only with countries who govern justly, invest in their citizens and encourage economic freedom, said the Web site. 

Countries that receive that assistance are then responsible for adhering to a multi-year plan that focuses on achieving objectives shared by the host country and the United States.

Danilovich will follow Paul Applegarth, who was forced to announce his resignation June 15. The principal complaint against Applegarth appears to be that he was not dispensing the
money quickly, according to The New York Times. At the time he said he would quit only
two countries had received final approval for aid, and at least a few African leaders complained about the lack of speed, The Times said.

Costa Rica does not have a Millennium Challenge account.  However, Honduras signed a five-year $215 million agreement in June, and the United States and Nicaragua signed a five-year, $175 million pact in July.

Danilovich served as ambassador to Costa Rica from October of 2001 to June of 2004.    Since then, he has been ambassador to Brazil.  He also served on the board of directors for the Panama Canal Commission from 1991 to 1996, and was chairman of the transition committee prior to the transfer of the canal to the government of Panama.  He attended the Choate School, Wallingford, Conn., Stanford, Palo Alto, Calif., and the University of Southern California at its London campus, said the U.S. State Department's Web site. 

Danilovich is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Knight of Malta. He  is the only U.S. ambassador to be decorated by the government of Costa Rica with their highest diplomatic honor, the Orden Nacional Juan Mora Fernández.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Aug. 12, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 159

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Taxi rates to jump
in a two-part hike

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi rates will go up in two stages.  The first will be next week when a new rate structure is published in the official newspaper, La Gaceta. The second increase will be Nov. 15.

In urban areas, the charge for the first kilometer will go from the current 285 colons to 310 colons immediately. Then the second increase will be to 330. That will represent a total increase of 45 colons or 15.8 percent, according to the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Público.

However, the rate for subsequent kilometers or parts thereof will increase about 87 percent. The rate now is 160 colons. The rate will go to 230 as soon as the rate structure is published. Nov. 15 the rate will go to 300 for a total increase of 140 colons.

The rate for the first kilometer in rural taxis will increase the same way as the urban service. But the charge for the additional kilometer will increase from 165 to 330, a 100 percent jump.

For comparison, the dollar is valued today at about 481 colons.

The new rate structure means that after Nov. 15 a four kilometer taxi ride today that costs 765 colons will cost 1,230. That is an increase of 61 percent.

More storms likely
over the weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electrical storms and downpours will be more frequent over the weekend, according to the Insituto Meteorólogico Nacional.

A series of heavy downpours caused at least one road death Thursday, and a series of whirlwinds took off roofs of homes in La Trinidad, El Coyol and Los Jardines in Alajuela.

Although residents of the neighborhoods spoke of tornadoes, the windstorms did not rise to that level.  Utility poles and trees fell, too, cutting off electricity for a time in some areas.

West of San José in the Municipalidad de Mora, an Acosta man died when his vehicle hit an oncoming truck during a heavy storm.

The weather experts said that weekend storms will be mainly on the Pacific coast and the Central Valley and that other areas, such as the northern zone and the Caribbean coast will experience less rainshower activity.

Constitution court
backs free expression

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV Constitutional Court annulled the decision by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía to initiate administrative proceedings against employees for comments made to the newspaper La Prensa Libre about the Paradise Hermosa project in Garabito.

The comments raised the ire of the minister, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi, but the court ordered him to “abstain from incurring threats or disturbances against the freedom of expression of workers of the ministry.   The magistrates of the court warned the minister that if he didn't comply with their order, he could be sentenced to anywhere from three months to two years in jail. 

The court also ordered the ministry to pay the costs and damages to the employees caused by the proceedings that already had started.

Officials must evict
squatters in Pavas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court ordered government officials to evict hundreds of squatters in Pavas from government land within four months.

The court order covers the neighborhoods known as Libertad I and II in Pavas. Although the court in its decision estimated that 300 persons live there, informal sources put the population closer to 3,000.

The people who will be evicted are those who moved onto the land and erected small homes wihout benefit of ownership. Technically, the court decision is against the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, the Ministerio de Salud, the Municipalidad de San José, the local police and other entities. The order requires them to remove the residents and their homes and reinforces a previous order.

The people llving in the homes are called precaristas in Spanish. They have taken over the land that is owned by the Insituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo, ironically the nation's housing authority. Some have lived there 18 years.

Araya knows nothing
about wife's big loan

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Johnny Araya Monge, the mayor of San José, told lawmakers Thursday that he had nothing to hide but then expressed surprise at being told his wife had taken out an $80,000 loan in 2003.

The day was the mayor's second appearance before the  Comisión Permanente Especial de Control del Gasto Público. The legislative committee is looking into allegations that Araya and a number of municipal officials took money from the Canadian firm EBI about the time that the company got a single-bidder contract to handle the area's garbage.

The allegations center on a former EBI employee, Normanda Heroux, now in Canada, whose name is on a document that details what appear to be payoffs. She nows says in a written declaration to the committee that the first document is a forgery.

Lawmakers decided Thursday to seek permission from the Corte Suprema de Justicia to have an expert conduct a study of the signatures on both documents to see if they match.
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On the move: The new apartment scores 10 of 11
Well, the pounding and buzzing of machinery and the dust from the crumbling concrete has done it.  I am moving.  The insurance money finally came through, and the earthquake damage to my apartment building is being repaired.  And it has been making me crazy. I am unable to tolerate noise the way Costa Ricans can. I walked out onto my balcony last week and announced to my sparrows “I don’t think I can take it anymore.”  They were sitting up on the wall where they retreat to when I approach, and they were not impressed.  The word “seeds” was not in that sentence.

I guess I have been complaining to more sympathetic ears as well because Alexis, a friend who extends her friendship beyond picnics in the park, said one day, not long afterwards, “We are going apartment hunting for you.”  We crisscrossed the city from San Pedro to Sabana and I actually found an apartment that has 10 of the 11 “requirements” that would make my ideal apartment, and it is within walking distance of Sabana Park.  Almost as good as Central Park West in New York City. 

So this time I really am moving.  Moving is not new to me. I have moved over 55 times in my life, but I still haven’t learned how to do it efficiently and easily with little stress.  I have lived in this apartment for longer than any place else since I was an adult, and I have accumulated more stuff than just books and pots and pans.  In Costa Rica unfurnished apartments usually have neither stove nor refrigerator.  So those are mine, too.

Then, of course, there are all of the arrangements that must be made – some of them involving governmental tramites, (procedures), like changing the address on my carnet and being assigned to a new medical clinic and hospital.  I was in the Caja building the other day and decided to start the process.  In the entrance hall there is a counter with two women behind it.  Above them is the sign INFORMATION.   I love signs that say information. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

They are such a comfort; they say ‘here is the solution to your problem, the answer to your questions.  I imagine Heaven is lined with information booths (although if Dante is right, probably Hell is more in need of them).

In answer to my question, the young woman behind the counter told me to go to the office next to the station marked 11.  There I gave the woman my new address  and asked my question about which clinic I would go to in the future.  She didn’t know, so she got on the phone.  Minutes passed while no one answered, I could just hear the ringing phone on the other end and was glad she was the one with the phone glued to her ear.  Curiously, while she was waiting, the phone in the office where we were sitting was ringing and no one was answering that one either.  After a while she got an answer and gave me the name of a clinic that seemed highly unlikely.  I hoped it was unlikely enough to be wrong. 

To change the address on my carnet, of course, I must go to Immigration.  I have the uneasy feeling that I will need an electric bill or telephone bill with my name and new address and many apartment buildings keep everything in their name.  I suppose I will have to do what others say they have had to do – get someone to certify that I live where I say I do, then get someone else to verify that the first person is who he says he is and therefore qualified to say I am who I say I am and live where I say I live. And then get it all stamped.  I think I will tackle that procedure after I am rested from moving and settling in.

Surprise: Brazilian meats and a great salad bar
My friend and food cognoscenti, Bob Waddington, bakes wonderful crusty bread, lemon meringue pies, German chocolate cakes and sourdough English muffins from his own starter. He told me about his favorite salad bar at the Brazilian restaurant, A Churrascaria Brasileira. It is a little surprising that what I agree to be a better than usual salad bar sits in a haven for ultimate carnivores.
Churrasco is Brazilian or Argentinean barbecue. The Argentinean variety is so common here that it needs no further elaboration. The Brazilian variety is a newcomer. In Nova Brescia, in the south of Brazil, a statue of a man barbecuing meat sits in the center of the town square. Folklore accounts for the depopulation of the town in the past few decades, from 150,000 people to about 30,000 as a product of townspeople going to every city in Brazil and to major cities worldwide to open churrascarias and share barbecue culture for profit.
Brazilian grilled-meat-on-a-skewer restaurants have come to a handful of major cities in the U.S. and Europe, but, to my knowledge, this is Costa Rica’s first. Instant success of A Churrascaria Brasileira will probably spawn more for the future. It is a lot of fun and offers variety and large amounts of nicely seasoned grilled flesh without wasting half eaten slabs.
The system is simple. Diners sit at a nicely set table with a placemat that shows a picture of a cow with six labeled body parts from which cuts of beef are served and lists five other cuts of chicken, pork and beef that complete the sacrificial offerings to us carnivorous gluttons. All the tenderloins, sirloins, prime ribs, flank steaks, filet mignons, buffalo hump pieces, chicken shoulders, chicken hearts, lamb and linguica (Portuguese-Brazilian sausage) are brought to your tables for offerings of chunks, pieces or slices. You leave the table only for trips to the salad bar or to the starch table of mashed potatoes, white rice or beans cooked with pork dice.
You are served a wide variety of beverages of your choosing from ice water to flavored martinis and sample meats until you cry or moan “uncle.” A peppermill shaped two tone wooden piece sits on each table. As long as you keep the green side turned up, waiters will present you with a never ending procession of meats. When you want to rest or quit, turn the wooden piece over with the red side, as in stop, facing upward.
In Lisbon, London, New York, Chicago and all across Brazil, you are likely to get  veal and fish skewers as well. The lamb and chicken offerings are traditionally marinated for hours before roasting. The fattiest pieces of all the flesh are chosen to keep
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


them juicy. Some leaner morsels are bacon wrapped. The beef pieces are basted with salt water often flavored with crushed garlic during cooking. The most vulnerable pieces to drying out are pork and chicken.

Chimichurri, a sauce of finely chopped cilantro and garlic suspended in oil, serves as a remoistening dip for dry tidbits.
So how does our restaurant compare? It has no rival in Costa Rica, but it would not do too badly against competition abroad. In Brazil it would be fair.
Some of the fare is a little overcooked, therefore dry (the chicken and pork, as expected). All the meats are well seasoned and quite flavorful despite the fact that salt is the only condiment.

The salad bar is quite nice with quality cheese, olives, pasta salad, fresh hearts of palm, quail eggs, garbanzos and  well chosen fresh greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers, purple cabbage etc. and toast points spread with garlic butter.

The sweet red pepper house dressing, Russian dressing and chimichurri are fine. The meal has a fixed price of ¢ 5,900 including service and tax, about $12.25. I have yet to have the capacity to try any of their desserts except to taste a nice mouthful of flamed caramelized bananas with cinnamon and ice cream called gato de botas.
The interior is tastefully appointed in modern tones, cocoa and forest green. The waitstaff is helpful, courteous and well trained. The overall experience is jovial and satisfying. Go when you have an empty stomach and lots of time to enjoy it in leisure.

A Churrascaria Brasiliera is just at the entrance in
front of the traffic light of the new Centro Commercial La Ribera in San Antonio de Belen (home to Supermercado and Ichi Ban Japanese restaurant as well). It is closed Sunday evenings. Telephone 239-1532.

Costa Rica takes a hit in report on money transfers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The little-known phenomenon of money transfers sent by migrants based in Latin America and the Caribbean is now being documented by the Inter-American Development Bank, and Costa Rica is among the countries singled out for what was called widespread racial and social discrimination against immigrants at a level that is much worse than that in the United States.

The bank said Thursday that money transfers, known as remittances, that are sent from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean have been reported widely, but much less is known about remittances and migration between neighboring countries in the region.

The Inter-American Development Bank said intra-regional remittances in Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for $1.5 billion in 2002.  But since most intra-regional remittances are neither tracked nor registered, that number omits transfers that migrants bring and send by non-formal means, the bank said. 

These findings come from the chapter of a new bank-sponsored book called "Beyond Small Change: Making Migrants' Remittances Count," written by two researchers from Georgetown University in Washington, Patricia Fagen and Micah Bump.

Quoting from the book, the Inter-American Development Bank said more than 90 percent of Haitian migrants living in the neighboring Dominican Republic either rely on friends or carry money and goods home on their own.

The bank reported on common characteristics among the Haitians sending remittances from the Dominican
 Republic, Nicaraguans sending money home from Costa Rica, and Bolivians sending money home from Argentina.  Migrant populations in these three countries come from rural areas, are poorer, and are also less educated and less skilled, compared to migrants in the United States. Additionally, they are not well integrated economically or legally in their host countries and face widespread racial and social discrimination at a level that is much worse than that in the United States, said the bank.

Migrants in these countries send about 50 percent or more of their earnings home every month, the IDB said.  That leaves them with little money to spend in their host countries' economies.  For many of the migrants interviewed in the Georgetown book, "relieving poverty at home means living in poverty across the border," the  Inter-American Development Bank said.

Because intraregional migrants have rural backgrounds, they tend to be less trustful and they have less experience with formal financial institutions than their counterparts in the United States.  In addition, many Nicaraguans, Haitians and Bolivians lack documentation in both their own and host countries, meaning that even if financial services are available, they are often unable to use them.

The bank said governments in the region can "add their weight in favor of human rights protections" for their citizens and can help migrants obtain personal documentation and establish formal identity in their host countries.  The bank quoted the Georgetown study as saying that "host-country governments also must do much more to protect the human beings whose labor they acknowledge to be essential to their economies."

Children's Day comes with a warning about youngsters and AIDS
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is international youth day as declared by the United Nations Population Fund. 

The fund's executive director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, wrote in a statement that it is important for world leaders to keep the well-being of the nation's youth in mind as they prepare for the World Summit in September. 

“Today the world has the largest number of young people, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the total population, in world history.  Fully half of the world's population is under 25,” Obaid wrote. 

Obaid writes that one of the most pressing problems facing young people today is the spread of AIDS.  15
 million children are orphans because of the disease, he said.

In addition, young women and girls are bearing the brunt of that epidemic and also vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and violence, Obaid writes.     

“Clearly, the priorities must change,” he writes, “All young people have the right to opportunity, education and health, including reproductive health.  This is urgent because half of all new HIV infections are among young people and far too many young women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. By providing youth with accurate information and quality services, they can protect their health and save their lives.  This international youth day, let us all pledge to support young people so they can reach their dreams.” 

Jo Stuart
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