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These stories were published Friday, Aug. 30, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 172
Jo Stuart
About us
New park for spheres might be boost for south
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is on the verge of acquiring its very own version of Stonehenge. The Museo Nacional hopes to create an international tourist attraction in Palmar Norte. The proposed "Parque de Esferas," or Park of Spheres, would feature the mysterious stone sculptures that once dotted the landscape of the southern region.

The park would be an economic draw for a depressed area.

These ancient artifacts are believed to have been made by pre-Colombian people, between A.D. 800 to 1500. The sizes of the spheres vary greatly. The smallest is about the size of a golf ball, while the biggest, known as the "El Silencio," is over two meters in diameter and weighs about 15 tons.

Most experts believe they were created by a process of heating and cooling the stone, causing it to exfoliate in layers. According to their theory, the shape was further refined by careful chipping and finally polished through abrasion.

The spheres are almost perfectly round, deviating from the circumference by less than one percent. Due to the exactness of the technique, some have even suggested that the skill was handed down by aliens from space.

No one knows what purpose the spheres served, but there is plenty of speculation. Archeologists have proposed that the spheres were symbols of power or boundary markers. 

The fact that the spheres have been discovered in groupings of straight lines (frequently in the direction of magnetic north), curves and triangles have lead some experts to say that the spheres had some sort of astronomical relevance, either as a calendar or as a navigational devise. The spheres have even been connected to the mythical civilization of Atlantis by some pop theorists.

Stonehenge, the arrangement of monoliths on the Salisbury Plain near Wiltshire, England, also is believed to have astronomical significance, but it was constructed much earlier, perhaps as long ago as 4,000 years.

Locals attest to the mystical properties of the sphere. According to folklore, by placing your hands on one sphere found in Caño Island National Park and rubbing it in a circular motion three times, your wish will come true.

The existence of the spheres was first made known in the 1930s when the land was being cleared for banana plantations by the United Fruit Company. The majority of the spheres were found in the Diquís Valley. Today, only a

Christian Burnham/A.M Costa Rica
Yvonne van Offeren, a Dutch tourist, tries to get her wish to come true by rubbing one of the few spheres left on Caño Island.

handful of spheres can still be found in their original locations.

Throughout the years, the spheres have been plundered by collectors only to become the pink flamingoes of Latin America. Now, they can be found in front yards and gardens throughout Costa Rica and as far away as Europe.

The aim of the project proposed by the Museo Nacional, in partnership with the Landmarks Foundation, a non-profit organization, is to recover the spheres and return them to their original configurations in a protected area. The museum plans to display the repatriated spheres to facilitate the further study of the spheres' origin and purpose. The park would also allow the public to experience the ancient works of art and their native historical context.

The Abel Pachecho administration is expected to support the creation of this project. A large chunk of land has already been contributed by a banana cooperative and the rest is expected to be set aside by the government. Besides restoring a part of cultural heritage to this country, organizers believe the archeological park could provide an economic stimulus to the economy in the Diquís Delta.

Palmar Norte is about 50 kms. (about 31 miles) north of Golfito and not far from the Osa Peninsula in extreme southwest Costa Rica.

The residency situation: See below

The little things that we bring back and forth
My friend Grady is back in town. I asked him if it was miserable flying and going through security. He said no, but when he returned to the States last time the customs officer was a bit taken aback when he found dozens of packets of peanuts in his suitcase.

"You’re bringing peanuts back to the States?" he said suspiciously. Grady informed him that you could not get lemon-flavored, salted peanuts or chili-flavored peanuts in the States. That got us to talking about other things that people take back to their countries from Costa Rica (aside from the typical souvenirs, of course).

On my early trips back and forth between here and the States I would bring all kinds of things to Costa Rica — Marukan seasoned vinegar, chocolate chips, feta cheese. Shoes. Things like that. Now Costa Rica has most of these things, albeit expensive chocolate chips and sort of imitation feta cheese. But there are shoe stores in every block. And I remember saying that when I could find herring in sour cream here I would become a resident. I am a resident.

Now, like Grady, I find myself taking things TO the States (although he is still bringing Starbucks decaf coffee here). One time I saw a woman filling her supermarket cart with bottles of vanilla.

It is not pure vanilla, although you can buy that in the Central Market. I asked her if she did a lot of baking. She said, no, her friends in Germany loved the vanilla here, so she always took back a supply.

Grady knows someone who takes back 6-ounce tubs of Axion soap. He claims it is the best stuff for washing dishes and other things. I agree and have thought about taking some back to my sister who always has a little dish of soapy water in her sink for quick washing up. Of course, lots of people take back coffee, not just the Britt’s coffee for export. It is good, and it is also expensive. Some people go to First Avenue behind the Central Market and buy freshly roasted Volio coffee to take home. It is not gift wrapped. It comes in brown paper bags. It is cheap and good.

Of course, everyone takes Lisano sauce back. Mavis told me her son, Rick took a 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

bunch of bottles back to his home in Corning, N.Y., then discovered the local grocery store carried it!

I always go back with several boxes of Gallito’s Milan mint-filled chocolates. My daughter, like me, has become addicted to them. In my opinion they are the best chocolates in Costa Rica for the money (aside from my fudge sauce, of course).

I used to take cans of Sardimar’s smoked tuna when they had the large cans in boxes. Since they have reduced the size and they no longer contain filets, it is not nearly as good — not worth carrying back to the States. I e-mailed them lamenting this. I got a quick answer from the general manager, I believe it was, who told me that soon the large cans would be available in the United States. He thought this would please me. It didn’t. It reminded me of one of the problems with globalization and free trade. All the best products from a country are exported.

Back in the 60s when I moved to Florida from New York I was dismayed to discover that the fruit in the supermarkets wasn’t nearly as good as what I got in New York. And I was in citrus country! Then I noticed the fruit was getting better. I learned that the governor of Florida had decreed that some of the prize fruit should be sold in the state, not because of me and other residents, but because the tourists were complaining. When I first came to Costa Rica, fish and seafood were very reasonable. Now shrimp is outrageously expensive here, most of it being exported.

The way the world operates now, if you have lots of money and live in one of the world’s big cities, you can get the best of anything for a price. 

There should be a clause in all these free trade agreements that a country must keep 10 percent of whatever product it exports for its own people at local prices.

More Jo Stuart: HERE!

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Residency rules continue to confuse foreigners
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s residency rules for foreigners continue to be confusing as the government seeks to enforce laws that have not been used in the past.

But because no procedures have been set up, the time is still early to make any conclusions on how difficult the changes might make the system, according to Ryan Piercy. He is the manager of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, a group deeply involved in helping newcomers get residency.

One fact is clear, said Piercy, and that is two types of residency, pensionado and rentista, are covered by different laws and will not change, he said, basing his opinion on the information he has received by lawyers who work at the association and at Casa Canadá.

Costa Rica cut off applications for other types of residency Wednesday. The move is widely seen as a way to cut down on the residency requests from Colombians and Nicaraguans who are living in Costa Rica.

Under the existing law that never has been enforced candidates for residency must make application in their own country at a Costa Rican consulate. Now the Pacheco administration is beginning to enforce that law.

The bulk of the North Americans who come here seek residency as pensionados or rentistas. A pensionado is someone who can show a monthly income, usually from a pension, of at least $600 a month. A rentista must have the funds to show a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month for five years, or $60,000.

Piercy’s organization also helps people apply for residency as inversionistas, or investors. This form of residency in which a foreigner invests from 

$50,000 to $200,000 may be affected by the new enforcement rules.

Piercy sent an e-mail to association members Thursday saying:

"The first steps to change the procedure for residency applications are under way. So far there have been no changes in any laws. Immigration will just start enforcing an existing law. 

"Keep informed throughout this process at our Web site . . . and whatever happens DO NOT WORRY, as these are so far just changes in procedure." 

Piercy also said that he believes that Costa Rica will continue to process pending residency applications. The government said it has about 6,000 of these. 

And there is a good chance the whole situation will end up in the constitutional court, said Piercy, because the local lawyers are miffed because they believe they are being cut out of a lucrative source of income in favor of lawyers in other countries.

A number of other Latin American countries require applicants for residency, visas and work permits to do so outside the country. Typically the paperwork is put together at a place that is convenient to the applicant and then air expressed to the appropriate consulate for processing. once processed, the applicant flies to the city in which the consulate is located, presents a passport and then receives the visa, permit or permission.

Piercy said the government could take months setting up its procedures.

Costa Rica also might be trying to send more business in the direction of the foreign consulates, particularly after officials drastically cut the commissions on legal stamps the consulate employees could charge.  The commissions were cut from 15 percent to 5 percent in June.

Pacheco goes to green summit with strong record
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco is off to the Johannesburg, South Africa, environmental summit where Costa Rica will be presented as a poster child for sustainable development.

Casa Presidential said that Pacheco’s staff will distribute at the World Summit the proposed constitutional guarantees that the administration will try to have included in the country’s constitution.

The gist of the constitutional changes the administration proposes were reported in the June 25 edition.

With these proposals, the world will know the decision that Costa Rica has taken to elevate to the highest level the protection of the environment, said Casa Presidencial in a release.

Pacheco also expects recognition from much of the world for the decision that Costa Rica has taken to reject open-pit mining for gold and exploration for 

petroleum off the Caribbean coast, said the Casa Presidencial release

We have taken a position of leadership and we hope to reaffirm it. We are going to send a message of conservation of the first-growth forests, of the coral, of the aquifers and of all the works of God," Pacheco was quoted as saying.

Costa Rica also is a leader in the generation of electricity from hydro projects. Pacheco will deliver a speech Monday at the summit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. delegation announced five major partnerships, coupled with others that will be unveiled later during the summit to deal with housing, oceans, biodiversity and education.

The initiatives announced Thursday aim to provide poor people with access to clean water, sanitation services and clean energy. 

The United States has been criticized because President George Bush decided not to attend the summit.

Crouse read lots of books and gained 40 pounds
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What do you do when you are in jail for a year? Mostly you stay in bed and read lots of books, perhaps as many as 150 novels.

That’s how Roger Crouse, the Playas del Coco bar owner, described his experience in the Liberia prison.

Crouse got out Tuesday when a three-judge panel agreed that he killed a threatening customer in self defense Aug. 19, 2001. But Crouse languished in jail for a year as Costa Rican justice moved along.

That was one of his biggest questions Thursday in a telephone interview. Crouse said he wondered why a judge did not let him go much earlier in the judicial process.

"The mental anguish, the mental stress is just unbelievable," he said. "It boils down to luck."

Crouse said he had no intentions of going back to Coco where the extended family of the man he killed lived. They sought $360,000, and seemed to think that Crouse has stolen that money from them because he was acquitted, Crouse said.

In Costa Rica victims and families of victims can join in a civil action that is coupled with the 

criminal case, but they only collect if the defendant is found guilty.

Unlike what might have been suspected, Crouse said he did not hit the bars in Liberia the evening of the day he was freed. He said he spent that night alone enjoying his first taste of freedom. 

He called from another beach community near Coco to report that he also had gained about 40 pounds, going from his normal 180 to his current 220, he said.

Crouse blamed the enforced inactivity of prison life where he was allowed just a short time once a week to walk around outside his cell.

The Nova Scotia native said that he could have been sentenced to as much as 30 years for capital murder. That possibility hanging over his head was mentally draining, he said.

Now he will sell his bar, "probably for 30 cents on the dollar," he said. The lesson he learned is that "if you are a foreigner, you can’t protect your property if someone comes in and tries to kill you."

He also said that changes in the public prosecutors assigned to the case kept the legal process running slowly because each new person had to study the case. 

Venezuelans protest
against Chavez

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

MARACAY, Venezuela — Hundreds of demonstrators opposed to President Hugo Chavez have rallied in the streets of this city to protest the government's economic policies. 

Taking part in the march Thursday were members of several opposition parties and the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, the country's largest labor union. The protesters blame the president for the country's high tax and unemployment rates. 

As the rally took place, pro-government supporters readied a counter demonstration nearby under the watchful eye of some 2,000 police officers. There were no reports of violence. 

Members of the armed forces briefly removed Chavez in April in a failed coup attempt. Soldiers loyal to the president quickly reinstated him. Chavez was elected in 1998 on a promise to stamp out corruption and help Venezuela's largely impoverished population. 

The opposition, however, has accused him of authoritarianism and vowed to remove him by constitutional means before his term ends in 2007. 

IMF denies Argentina’s
request for a loan

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund says Argentina is not ready for an emergency loan, and that problems remain. Fund officials responded Thursday to Argentina's request for a bailout. 

Leaders in Argentina were not surprised by the news from Washington, where Thomas Dawson, International Monetary Fund spokesman, said there were widespread problems that need to be resolved before agreement can be reached on new loans.

Dawson said the country has made some progress looking for a way out of its economic crisis, but the problems remain too widespread. He said talks will continue.

Argentina is struggling to climb out of the hole it fell into last year, when it defaulted on $141 billion in foreign debt. Since then, inflation and unemployment have skyrocketed, the peso has lost more than 70 percent of its value, and Argentina's economy and banking system have been on the verge of collapsing.

Nearly two weeks ago, Argentina's leaders sent a request for an emergency loan. 

President Eduardo Duhalde blamed the delay on other politicians, who insist Argentina can get by without international help.

Roberto Lavagna, economy minister, blamed a court decision abolishing pay cuts for state employees, which the government says would have saved more than $2 billion a year.

Unrest preventing
food aid in Colombia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lawlessness and inadequate security within Colombia are hampering a campaign to deliver food aid to displaced people in the Andean nation, says the U. N. World Food Program.

In statement Wednesday, the World Food Program called on "all parties" involved in Colombia’s ongoing, armed conflict to respect international law guaranteeing the free movement of humanitarian aid.

Since January 2002, World Food Program food aid convoys in Colombia have been stopped or robbed on over 40 occasions, the agency said.

Delays in food aid deliveries are affecting the agency’s ability to reach its intended beneficiaries in Colombia, such as malnourished infants, school children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and internally displaced people who have fled recent attacks.

Deliveries to small, remote villages are the most vulnerable to attack.

Good news, bad news
with weekend weather

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Afternoon rains again contributed to some local flooding in the Central Valley Thursday, as residents continued to hope for clear skies.

The soggy ground could hold little of the rain that coursed down into turbulent streams and rivers.

The Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense said that a tropical disturbance that has caused the intense rains for the last eight days was finally moving northeast some 600 kms. (about 360 miles)  from the country. But the bad news is that the fourth tropical depression of the season, a potential hurricane, has been sighted about 1,000 kms. (about 600 miles) southeast of the country but headed this way.

Hurricanes typically do not hit Costa Rica, but the unstable weather frequently is felt here. At its estimated rate of travel, effects of the new depression might be felt here within a day and a half.

It's Labor Day here
365 days of the year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is Labor Day weekend in the United States, the official end of summer and the time when citizens have their last fling of the summer at the beach or in the mountains.

Holiday revelers also face traffic jams and long waits at campgrounds, ferry crossings and national parks.

Basically your normal day in Costa Rica where it always is summer (although they call the rainy season "winter") and where the beaches and mountains are accessible every day.

Crowded highways, long waits for ferries and some crowded national parks are also among the typical in Costa Rica.

The folks at the U.S. Embassy have the best of both worlds, getting Costa Rican AND U.S. holidays off.

The next Costa Rican holiday is Independence Day, Sept. 15, a Sunday.

Cheney urges action
against Saddam Hussein

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States cannot wait while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein develops more weapons of mass destruction. The vice president continues to take the lead in Bush administration efforts to rally popular support for attacking Iraq.

Vice President Cheney said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is expanding his chemical and biological weapons programs at the same time he is pursuing nuclear arms.

"These are not weapons designed for the purpose of defending Iraq. These are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam Hussein can hold the threat over the head of anyone he chooses in his own region or beyond," Cheney said. 

In Texas Thursday, Cheney told a meeting of U.S. veterans of the Korean war that there is no graver threat to world peace than Iraq with nuclear weapons.  He said Saddam Hussein would use those weapons to take control of Middle East oil and dominate the region.

Cheney said there must be concrete action to disarm Iraq but he says President Bush will move cautiously in deciding how to respond to those threats. The president openly supports a change of government in Iraq but said he not yet decided whether to attack the country.

At a Republican fundraiser in Arkansas Thursday, he said there are still other options for protecting the world from countries that might help terrorist acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"We have got a lot of pressures we can bring to bear. We have got friends in the world. But for the sake of our children, we are going to deal with the problems now presented. For the sake of freedom, we will not allow these tyrants to hold the United States or our friends and allies blackmail with weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. 

As the Bush administration tries to lay-out its case for military action in Iraq, more and more allies are expressing their concern that the United States may go it alone.

French President Jacque Chirac Thursday said any unilateral action against Iraq would be contrary to the rule of law. He said military action must be a decision for the U.N. Security Council.

Germany and Sweden say Washington should not do anything to undermine U.N. authority and should consult with its allies before acting.

China Wednesday joined Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Russia in urging President Bush to use restraint in dealing with Saddam Hussein.

Bush announces
E-business fellowship

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — "We are developing a network of future e-business executives," says Anne Driscoll of the U.S. Department of Commerce, commenting on the Inter-American E-Business Fellowship Program.

In an effort to expand educational exchanges that develop human capital in the Western Hemisphere, President George Bush announced the creation of the Inter-American E-Business Fellowship Program at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec.

He explained that the initiative would "give young professionals from throughout the Americas the opportunity to learn about information technology by spending time with U.S. companies." The program "will empower them with the skills and background to bring the benefits of these technologies to their own societies," the president added.

Following a successful pilot program in 2001, 16 Latin American business executives were selected from over 200 applicants and have been invited by the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to participate in the 2002 E-Business Fellowship Program. The program includes five executives from Brazil, four from Mexico, two from Colombia, and one each from Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador, Honduras and El Salvador. Five of the fellows are women.

The keystone of the program is a four-week fellowship with a U.S. host company. 
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