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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Aug. 31, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 171                  E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Tico lifestyles lack challenges
Underdevelopment and the origins of Pura Vida

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you are thinking one year ahead, sow seeds. If you are thinking 10 years ahead, plant a tree. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate your children.”

This proverb gives light into how much planning goes into Chinese culture. Therefore, if the Chinese think 100 years in advance – reflected in their progressive and hard-working culture – could it be assumed that Europeans think 70 years in advance and Americans 50, according to their progressive history? 

And what could be said about our fellow Costa Ricans? An observer of the culture might conclude that Costa Ricans think no farther than their noses. Does that have something to do with why many Hispanic nations keep falling behind global progress? Yes, in fact, it has everything to do with it, and Ticos are definitely not the exception.

From their education or personal expenses to huge white-collar fraud in high governmental positions – including the presidency – Ticos are a vivid example of the Latin short-sight attitude towards life, and who better than President Óscar Arias Sánchez to confirm it?

As he said in his speech for the 5th Summit of the Americas, held this April in Trinidad and Tobago,
central post office
Correo Nacional
 “No one is to blame except for us.”

So, what exactly is this short-sight attitude? What are its cultural ramifications that extend to this and other Latin American countries?

Unfortunately, the lack of identity or real political struggle for Costa Ricans has
made them believe that life is just a comfortable couch where they tune in to passively admire the successes of other countries through their imported TV sets.

According to history books, Costa Rica picked up the pieces after Colonial times and built what they
could to show the world they were a dignified country. The only way they thought possible to achieve a decent country status was by importing arts and embellishing San José with the latest architectural and
Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional
artistic trends, condensed in the buildings of the Teatro Nacional and the Correo Nacional. They thought that those foreign helpers were going to jumpstart the country into building its own identity. They never imagined that instead, they stripped the country from ever having a true solid identity for exactly that: for expecting everything to come from the outside instead of building from the inside.

They thought that with what was left after colonialism, the country could not build itself: It had to be built and defined by the developed nations of the time. Sadly, that way of thinking still shapes Costa Rica’s reality. The country was first rescued by Europe, then the United States (who continues to do it), then by Taiwan, and now by China. Who’s next? Saudi Arabia?

Costa Rican leaders have hidden behind the sad Third World Face for decades to happily receive billions of dollars and distribute them among top government officials. No wonder there have been at least three presidents linked to major fraud. One is on trial for fraud right now, and another stayed in Switzerland.

Despite major fraud and corruption, Costa Rica’s political climate has enjoyed stability since it was established, and its monopoly system has created a seemingly comfortable bubble for the population, instituting soccer and alcohol as the official pacifiers that keep citizens in their seats at work and at home, thinking what the government tells them to, and feeling content with what they do not have.

Ironically, that complacent attitude has shaped Costa Ricans into mediocre achievers. Ticos are accustomed to have foreign nations think for them, invent for them, sweat for everything while they wait until it is available in stores. That is where the Pura Vida concept comes to verbalize Costa Rican identity.

Ticos have a Pura Vida mentality: Do the least and expect the most, take the shortest shortcut and feel proud, think of the most comfortable decision for the time being.

The average Costa Rican male grows up sheltered in their household, where his mom serves as maid, janitor, assistant and what not, and she pampers him until he get off the couch and gets married. The average Costa Rican female grows up to take care of a family that perpetuates the vicious cycle of contentment. Very few Ticos learn the concept of independence, resilience and persevering. They are used to running to Mommy crying and have her put out their fires.

Very few Ticos learn the value of labor because their over-protective mothers convince them they do
near sighted
Somewhat short-sighted

not need it until they grow up. Naturally, they do
not learn to secure their future since they have always had someone taking care of them.

Ticos are never taught the value of schooling either. Culturally, school is seen as an obligatory burden,
not as a privilege, and cheating on tests is something to feel proud of. Some college students barely pass subjects because they are just following a life recipe, not their own passion. In fact, very few Costa Ricans are passionately devoted to their profession. Most are only passionate at the soccer stadium.

Therefore, what can you expect from a society that produces and pampers underachievers? You expect people who cannot manage time, money or energy, people who are always waiting for the perfect shortcut to present itself and people who justify everything to keep denying and enjoying their incompetence.

For example, mechanics who overcharge for taking good parts from cars instead of fixing them think they are doing good business for themselves because of how that particular situation helped them financially. The same goes for lawyers who only take lucrative cases, never return phone calls and treat clients condescendingly, and for dentists who do not upgrade their equipment because they think clients will never demand it. These professionals do not think of themselves as thieves or bad service providers, nor do they think of their clients as apple trees. They only think of clients as apples.

Ticos have no worries in their minds other than what is going on at the moment: who they like or not, what handy distractions can serve as excuses to not work, study or worry about their lives, what they want or need to buy for their current needs or trends, or what they want for their next meal. Many quit jobs impulsively the minute they dislike them without having something better lined up, even when having a family to support. Why? Because they know they can always go back to mommy’s house and she will help them. Most of them do not think of how striving through difficult liaisons can serve as bridges to improve their future, how managing money wisely can get them out of debt, or how staying in a job that they may not like until they find something better can strengthen their resume and keep them afloat financially.

Costa Ricans are not usually concerned with planning for when they are up in age either, and very few of them purchase graves or worry about making wills and having things in order if they suddenly pass away.

Therefore, why has this short-sight attitude spread through Latin America? Is it a legacy of colonialism? Not only have Hispanic nations been responsible for falling off the progress wagon, they have prostituted themselves to powerful countries while blaming them for their own lack of development.

Arias lists several reasons for Latin America’s permanent Third-World status.

“Firstly, we only have seven years of schooling, …[we] don’t [raise taxes for] the richest people in our countries, … we don’t spend enough to keep our people healthy, … we don’t build the necessary infrastructure, the roads, the ports, the airports; … we don’t devote the necessary resources to stop the degradation of the environment … it is inequality [what] really shames us, is the product, among other things, of course, [of] not educating our sons and daughters.”

Arias could not have said it better: “the 21st century is the Asian century, not the Latin American century,… [and] we should not wait [too long] to make the changes that we have to make.”

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2009, use without permission prohibited.

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Our readers' opinions
International aid boycott
is only means available

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Walter Filia (Aug. 29) shouldn't confuse military coups with benefits to the poor. Almost every country in Latin America has suffered from the devastating effects of these attacks on democracy, with the poor always bearing the brunt of the brutality and impoverishment.

The case of Honduras fits the well-established pattern with the wealthy feeling their privileges threatened and getting their friends in the military to do the dirty work. And while international boycotts may be a blunt instrument, they are the only non-military means of persuasion available for a return to democracy. And as for the chances of this denied foreign aid being effective anyway, military dictatorships are well known experts at siphoning off and stealing such help meant for the country at large.

To top things off, the upcoming November election will be conducted under the control of the the same people who kidnapped and expelled their democratically elected president, so what are the chances it will be a fair election? Not too good, I would venture. History may be an illusion for some. but there is a reason Costa Rica does not have a military. We are seeing that right now in Honduras, in action, before our eyes.
R. Martin

Judge undoes work of police

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

RE: Nine of 10 drug gang suspects set free by judge.

Incredible!  The investigators and the police officers are once again devastated by yet another example of a bad and crooked judicial system.  I would offer that someone should check this judge's bank account and the accounts of his family.  Why not publish the judge's name and telephone number so he can get a taste of citizen anger?
Ken Beedle

Why did judge let them go?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading the story of the police spending the night hiding along the banks of a polluted stream so they could surprise gang members in the early morning. Agents wanted to conduct their raid that way because they were wary of the gang, which is known to be armed.

How can Costa Rica not see this as MORONIC?  Example after example after example.
Garry Wiersum
Ciudad Colon

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Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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You can reach us at 8832-5564.

But Internet is best.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 171

another great month
Your Costa Rica

How about a nice, scaly gift to bring home to the wife?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not just the turtles are endangered by tough economic times on the Caribbean coast. Iguanas are a hot item, too. The Fuerza Pública said that creatures frequently are captured along the banks and mouths of various rivers in mangroves near Cieneguita in Limón.

Although historically iguanas have been the centerpiece of many dinners (the tail tastes like chicken), the idea last week was to sell the creatures as pets at local bars. Perhaps after enough beers, someone might think that bringing home an iguana to the wife might be a welcomed gift worth the 25,000-colon price.

Police officers arrested three individuals for violation of the environmental laws. They were identified by the last names and ages of Mararrita, 15, Ari Vargas, 22 and Cortés Vivas, 20. The iguanas were turned over to local representatives of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. Officers said that the iguana is approaching extinction in the Limón area.
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
One of the rescued iguana is held by a police officer

Police officer chasing suspect falls to his death in Pavas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Fuerza Púbica officer died early Friday when he arrived to back up fellow policemen who were being targeted by
fallen policeman
Luis Alfredo González
stone-throwing residents of Lomas del Río in Rincón Grande in Pavas.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said the incident started when two men in a car fired shots in Libertad 1 de Villa Esperanza, Pavas. Two officers located a suspect vehicle a short time later in Lomas del Río and asked the vehicle occupants for identification.

The ministry said that residents began throwing stones at the officers, who radioed for help.

The officer who died, Luis Alfredo González Santana, 25, arrived to help with the crowd. He spotted one of the suspects running away and gave chase, said the ministry. After the pair entered a vacant lot, the police officer slipped and fell about 100 meters, some 328 feet, to his death.

\The residents continued to throw stones and other items even as police and Cruz Roja rescue workers attended to the fallen officer, the ministry said.

González, who joined the force in April 2004, becomes the fifth ministry law enforcement officer to die this year. Two
funeral of police officer
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Police officers adjust Costa Rican flag on coffin at viewing at Fuerza Pública chapel.

officers were shot and killed while off duty, and two members of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas died Aug. 12 in a boating accident in the Pacific.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 171

plenty of pot
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Fuerza Pública officers in Bananito de Limón found this stash of marijuana on a 45-year-old bus rider. Although the man is a known vendor of marijuana in the area, he
told police that the 600 grams (about 19 ounces) was for his personal use. As someone previously convicted, the man faces a harsher penalty.

Scripps expedition probes Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Scientists have just completed an unprecedented journey into the vast and little-explored Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Researchers were on the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition. They got the first detailed view of plastic debris floating in a remote ocean region.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

The Scripps research vessel New Horizon left its San Diego homeport Aug. 2, 2009, for the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, located some 1,000 miles off California's coast, and returned on Aug. 21.

Scientists surveyed plastic distribution and abundance, taking samples for analysis in the lab and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life.

Before this research, little was known about the size of the garbage patch and the threats it poses to marine life and the gyre's biological environment. A gyre is a vortex in the ocean caused by currents. Such areas accumulate garbage. The North Pacific Gyre is gigantic, stretching from offshore California almost to Asia.

The expedition was led by a team of Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate students with support from University of California Ship Funds, the National Science Foundation and Project Kaisei.

The expedition was an important education experience for the graduate students, and contributed to a better understanding of an important problem in the oceans, said Linda Goad, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences.

"We hope that SEAPLEX will result in increased awareness of a growing issue," she said, using the acronym for the project.

After traveling for six days aboard the research vessel, the researchers reached their first intensive sampling site Aug. 9. Team members began 24-hour sampling periods using a variety of tow nets to collect debris at several ocean depths.

"We targeted the highest plastic-containing areas so we could begin to understand the scope of the problem," said Miriam Goldstein of Scripps Institution, chief scientist of the expedition. "We also studied everything from phytoplankton to zooplankton to small midwater fish."

The scientists found that at numerous areas in the gyre, flecks of plastic were abundant and easily spotted against the deep blue seawater.

Among the assortment of items retrieved were plastic bottles with a variety of biological inhabitants. The scientists also collected jellyfish called by-the-wind sailors (Velella velella).

Aug. 11th, the researchers encountered a large net entwined with plastic and various marine organisms; they also recovered several plastic bottles covered with ocean animals, including large barnacles.

The next day, Pete Davison, a Scripps graduate student studying mid-water fish, collected several species in the gyre, including the pearleye (Benthalbella dentata), a predatory fish with eyes that look upward so it can see prey swimming above, and lanternfish (Tarletonbeania crenularis), which migrate from as deep as 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) down to the ocean surface each day.

By the end of the expedition, the researchers were
trash bottles
Scripps Institution of Oceanography photo
Plastic bottles, which may release toxins into the ocean, make up a high percentage of Pacific trash.

garbage net
Scripps Institution of Oceanography photo
Scripps researchers spotted a large net tangled with plastic in the Pacific garbage patch.

intrigued by the gyre, but had seen their fill of its trash.

"Finding so much plastic there was shocking," said Goldstein. "How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?"

Although not mentioned by Scripps, another recent research report said that plastic in the ocean is far more dangerous than the possibility of mechanical harm to birds and other creatures.

Japanese researchers duplicated ocean conditions in the laboratory and found that decaying plastic gives off certain dangerous toxins.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 171

Casa Alfi Hotel

Ban on cattle may help
preserve Brazil's forests

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Major beef and leather producers in Brazil have agreed not to use cattle raised in recently deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest.

Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, and Brazil loses an estimated three million hectares of forested land each year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. That's more than any other country in the world. And cattle ranching and deforestation are intimately connected.

The governor of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso has called on meat producers not to buy cattle raised on recently deforested lands in the Amazonian state. Now, two major beef producers in Brazil, Bertin and Marfrig, have announced they are joining the initiative. Shoe makers Nike and Timberland signed on earlier this month.

The moves follow a report issued this June by the environmental group Greenpeace that traced leather products from major global brands back to the meat processors and ranchers in deforested areas of the Amazon.

Greenpeace spokesman Daniel Kessler says the announcements will have a significant impact on protecting the rainforest.
"Mato Grosso, just to give some perspective, is by far the largest producer of leather in all of Brazil," Kessler says, "and the fact that they're having this moratorium is extremely important. Using Bertin as an example, they're the second-largest beef exporter in Brazil. And they're supporting this moratorium. And they're doing the right thing."

The third major meat packer in the Amazon region, JBS, has not announced its plans and did not return calls and e-mails for comment.

The Brazilian government and independent third-party observers will enforce the moratorium using satellite photographs, aerial fly-overs, and site visits. The meat processors have agreed not to buy cattle from those responsible for newly deforested lands.

Brazil is already using this system to monitor soybean production. The country is a major soy producer, and since 2006 a coalition representing soybean growers, processors, and civil society groups has been cooperating on a moratorium on soy from recently deforested Amazon land.

Cassio Franco Moreira with the environmental group World Wildlife Fund is a member of that coalition. He says soy often follows cattle on recently deforested land.

"You have a huge area of forest and then you deforest it and then you put cattle [on it] because you can take your product walking to the slaughterhouse," he says. "And soy you need roads, you need this kind of thing."

So, he says, limiting cattle ranching in the Amazon is an important step. Greenpeace's Daniel Kessler says he's optimistic about the cattle moratorium.

"The government in Brazil did a great job with soy, so we have full faith that they'll do a great job with leather," he says.

The soy moratorium has just been extended for another year while all the groups involved work out a more permanent method to certify that soybeans do not come from deforested land.
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Two more candidates officially in presidential race

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two more persons have been put forth as presidential candidates. Delegates of the new Partido Alianza Patriótica chose Rolando Araya during a session in Zapote. The Partido Acción Cuidadana confirmed Ottón Solís.

Araya, an international socialist, was the Partido Liberación Nacional candidate in 2002. He lost to Abel Pacheco of Unidad Cristiana.

Depending on the outcome of a criminal bribery trial, Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia may be the Unidad candidate in the Feb. 7 elections. The trial is coming to an end and a verdict is expected within the next three weeks. Prosecutors claim that Calderón raked off some $9 million for a $39.5 million loan from the Finnish government to purchase medical supplies for the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Unidad has begun a television campaign proclaiming his innocence. A three-judge panel will have the initial say. Any verdict would have to be confirmed by the Sala III criminal supreme court.

The front runner continues to be Laura Chinchilla of Liberación Nacional. She was a vice president under the current president, Óscar Arias Sánchez, and she is considered a continuation of his presidency. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking a consecutive term.

Otto Guevara of the Movimiento Libertario also is a candidate.

Araya still has to be approved by a larger assembly of the new political party, but that is also most certain to take place. The new party includes many who opposed the free trade treaty with the United States and the opening of the insurance and telecom market to private competition.

Two held in credit card fraud

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained two persons Friday and said that they will face allegations that they defrauded Credomatic, the credit card company. One of the suspects is a Credomatic employee.

The Poder Judicial said that a credit card holder sought to surrender the card and that an individual who identified himself as a Credomatic employee picked up the card at the customer's home. But then the card was used in a casino and in downtown San José to purchase items.

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