A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 174
Jo Stuart
About us

Bottletop checkers

Pigeon catcher

Time for a headband

The multiple faces that brighten the city
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José is a launch pad to the mountains, forests and beaches that make Costa Rica famous. San José is not particularly recognized for its architecture or history, and it lacks the bloody revolution that stirs historians.  But it has people.  In their variety and character, the city challenges even the Big Apple.

There's the businessman with the $600 suit mixing in a bar with lawn maintenance workers, all cheering on the national soccer team.  There are the casino workers squinting as they leave the overnight shift and greet the morning sun.

There's the lady who sells flowers on Avenida Segunda. She can tie a world-class bow around a dozen red roses in about a second and a half.

There's the homeless man who has a steering wheel around his neck and struggles to add a headband.

Then a family passes by, the father dressed as an Old Testament patriarch with similarly dressed wife and kids in tow.

There's a youngster chasing and even catching pigeons on the Plaza de la Cultura.

Five blocks away there is a nearly identical youngster huddled over a crack pipe in a
Reporting and photo
by Jesse Froehling

doorway.  There are couples in the park in the afternoon and evening necking like high schoolers and couples asleep together in boxes on the street in the rain.  On the north side of Calle 9, street kids hustle lost tourists while the church bells call the faithful to evening prayer.  

There are vendors and musicians, beggars and hustlers.  There is even a man who only sells oranges and uses a little rotary machine to strip off the skin. And platoons of lottery agents, both legal and illegal. And a guy who makes a living selling only television antennas in a cable world.

There are the ubiquitous Peruvian musicians. The man who acts as a statue and several who paint masterpieces with spray cans or tiny brushes.

There is an army of municipal workers sitting in the shade while a giant backhoe repairs a vital street. And technicians descending into the sewers to unplug the city.

But most of all there are the average Costa Ricans, young and old, picking their way through the human sideshow coming or going to work, school, church or play, usually with a smile.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 174

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Bolaños defies high court
and increases uncertainty

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The continuing political battle between President Enrique Bolaños and the rest of the Nicaraguan government took an ugly turn Thursday when the president openly defied the authority of the Nicaraguan supreme court to determine the legality of a series of constitutional reforms.

Bolaños through the statements of his secretary, Ernesto Leal, told media members that he would not obey a court order declaring the constitutional reforms enacted this May by the National Assembly to be legally sound. The legal basis for the rejection of the court order by the Bolaños government is an obtuse decision by the Central American Court of Justice declaring the reforms “inapplicable”.

The president is also seeking reconsideration of another order of the Supreme Court granting convicted money launderer and ex-president Arnoldo Alemán the right to travel freely throughout the department of Managua. The department includes the entire capital as well as a large section of the Pacific coast where Aleman and his family are the owners of a beachfront villa in the community of Pochomil.

Alemán was the benificiary of the decision when all of the opposition Sandinista magistates claimed sickness on the afternoon of the vote by the Supreme Court. The only justices present on the day of the vote were four loyalists to the “Arnoldista” branch of the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista who voted unanimously in his favor. Alemán has been under very restrictive conditions in recent weeks after Bolaños imposed a prison-like regimen at the farm where Alemán is being detained. Bolaños justified the decision by stating that Alemán and the members of the liberal party were “actively conspiring” against his government.

The situation between Bolaños and the other branches of the government grows more critical every day with the United States openly supporting Bolaños and severely criticizing the supreme court as being “totally discredited” and denouncing the individual magistrates on the court as being being politicized protectors of corrupt leaders.

A press release by the U.S. Embassy in Managua strongly rejected the decisions of the court as being of “doubtful legal precedent” and a “manipulation of justice.”
Taking heart from the expression of support by the State Department, Bolaños aggresively moved to defy the supreme court. However, there is a strong likelihood that the National Assembly which returns to session next week will remove Bolaños’ presidential immunity and seek his arrest and prosecution for contempt of court.

In the event that Bolanos were to be arrested, the Nicaraguan Constitution requires that sitting presidents must be tried before the supreme court, the same body that is seeking the contempt citation. In this scenario the president’s only remaining card is to call for a state of emergency and seek intervention of the Organisation of American States including possible military support.

Police conduct sweep
through San Pedro

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers moved through San Pedro Tuesday night completing what they described as a “cleanup” mission. 

They arrested six persons, two of whom had warrants for aggravated robbery, recovered several stolen items and confiscated a few marijuana joints, officials said. 

Officers said that at 6 p.m. they arrested a woman in nearby Mall San Pedro with three pairs of stolen pants.  An hour later, they arrested a person with the last names of Loiza Méndez who was trying to steal a car, officials said.  Loiza has an ample criminal record for stealing cars, selling drugs and assault, police said.

A half-hour later at 7:30, officers stopped two individuals who were said to be moving “suspiciously” through San Pedro centro.  Both had warrants out for aggravated robbery, and officers arrested them accordingly.  10 minutes later, another person was arrested for intending a violent robbery and carrying a knife. 

Finally, at 8 p.m., officers said they caught a man selling marijuana on the street.  The officers said they found five joints on the man and arrested him.  

Officers made the sweep in part because a student died when he was hit by crossfire during a gang shootout in San Pedro last week. Another passerby was hurt.

Father held in death
of his 30-day-old son

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials with the Judicial Investigating Organization in Cañas have arrested a 23-year-old Dos Ríos de Upala man to face investigation in the death of his 30-day-old son, officials said.

Initially, the parents of the baby said that they were crossing a stream and the father – holding the infant – slipped and fell, cracking the baby's head on a rock, officials said.

However, officials said that evidence they gathered did not match with the story the child's parents were telling.  After investigations, officials came to the conclusion that the father was trying to hit the mother and instead hit the baby she was holding, cracking the child's skull. 

When she was confronted, the mother confirmed the story and the father was arrested, officials said. 

Two drivers die in similar ways

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two people died, one in Alajuela and one in Ciudad Neily, when speeding vehicles came in contact with slower ones, officials said. 

In the early hours of Tuesday, a tractor-trailer swung out to pass a vehicle operated by Odir Baltodano Banantes near Alajuela on Route 1.  When the truck pulled back in front of Baltodano's car, the rear wheels of the trailer clipped the car of the 26-year-old and knocked it off the road where it collided with a barrier.  Baltodano died at the scene, officials said.  The driver of the truck fled, authorities said.

Then, 16-year-old Victor Julio Jimenez died when he crashed his motorcycle into a trailer pulled by a tractor in Playa Blanca de Puerto Jiménez.

U.S. Embassy will be closed Labor Day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is Labor Day in the United States. The day, a holiday, marks the traditional end of summer. The U.S. Embassy here will be closed that day.

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No excuse for bogus arguments on free trade treaty
An interesting Powerpoint presentation is making the rounds on the Internet. The show proves, at least, that economics is not one of the stronger subjects in the Costa Rican educational system.

The presentation, titled "Who wins and who loses with the free trade treaty" (¿Quién gana y quién pierde con el TLC?),  says that the agreement is stacked in favor of U.S. companies. The loser in the deal will be the Costa Rican social state.

Now the jury still is out on the free trade pact, but there is no excuse for bogus arguments, particularly when the source appears to be the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The e-mail or origin was Madrigal Huertas Jorge <JoMadrigal@ice.go.cr>. They must have time on their hands at the government telecommunications monopoly.

The presentation points out that of the top 50 exporting companies here only 10 are Costa Rican companies and the rest are run on foreign capital mainly from the U.S. The exports are concentrated in four areas: electronics, medical products, textiles and agriculture.

These exports, which totaled $5.8 billion in 2002, are presented as a bad thing. Strange. Most countries like to have companies making products for the world market, paying local taxes, employing local residents and participating in local life.

But these companies are getting subsidized utilities like water and electricity, said the presentation. But so is everyone else, thanks to the way Costa Rica drastically underprices these services.

"The great quantity of privileges and exonerations
The Friday column.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

that are granted to the big foreign companies weaken the public budget and, with this, impedes the financing of basic services like education and health that will continue to be weakened," said the presentation. There's no mention of the massive positive financial impact on the country by subsidiaries of foreign firms.

Another example of capitalismo salvaje is that "The national farmers will be ruined little by little because the country will be filled with agricultural products of the United States." In other words, Costa Ricans for years have been paying inflated prices for agricultural goods in order to maintain the inefficient farmers.

What is needed here is a little introspection. Why is it that the Costa Rican market is dominated by foreign firms and foreign money? Is it the people, or is it the social and governmental structure that hammers down innovation and success? Is it the failure of the educational system to suggest valid alternatives?

Whether or not Costa Rica subscribes to the free trade treaty, the country has the possibility of a future much greater than as some tattered example of failed socialism.
The above was written by Jay Brodell, editor of A.M. Costa Rica. Jo Stuart, the regular Friday columnist, is spending a few days in the hospital.

Soda Tapia's western branch drawing throngs
The original Soda Tapia sits between McDonald’s and Paseo Colón across from the eastern edge of Sabana Park. The little parking lot in front looks like a bumper car ride at an amusement park with a capeless toreador waving his arms but not moving his body as the drivers dart past him the moment a spot opens.

Because of limited parking, the restaurant is never as full as the lot. Outdoor seating is only feet away from the single row of parked cars and only a few meters away from buses and big rigs belching black diesel smoke, particularly as they accelerate when the light on the corner turns green. The ambient noise precludes soft conversation. Nevertheless, Tapia’s lot is always full. On a few occasions, we have gone in only because a spot became available as we were passing.
What we found was decent, no frills Tico and Gringo food at reasonable prices for breakfasts of pancakes, french toast, huevos rancheros and gallo pinto combos, sandwiches, burgers, hot plates of the day, pies, cakes, puddings, ice cream, specialty coffees and a bevy of soft drink choices.

When first we came to Costa Rica, every time we passed Tapia in the car of a local, he or she was sure to point it out as one of San Jose’s most popular spots for a light bite or coffee with pastry even in the middle of the night. We wondered how the place maintained its reputation as the best in its class despite the sense that everything may be coated in an invisible hydrocarbon film, the smell and the noise. Why did their Escazú branch fail three years ago?
When the second attempt at a second site opened on the Santa Ana – Belen road next to the equally new Taco Bell in July, a remarkable number of people began to come at all hours from early Sunday mornings through and between weekday meal hours. By comparison, Taco Bell had only a small fraction of the patronage.

On the evening of Guanacaste Annexation Day, Tapia filled its own 10 spaces, all of Taco Bell’s and nearly all of the rest of the new strip mall’s, most of whose tenants have yet to move in. All the tables including the capacious second floor were full. A few groups went the taco way in frustration.

Despite the throngs, the wait staff and the kitchen did a decent job of keeping orders straight and food flowing to diners. Bills and change were as prompt as any other place in our country. Tabletops cleared promptly for another onslaught.

What will happen when the three other restaurants, Japanese, seafood and pastry café move in along with a mix of other businesses? Perhaps they’ll find another capeless matador.
All the food is better than fair and less than memorable. The pancakes, Paninis and french toast
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


are better than average. The fries are a bit pale but not greasy. The apple pie filling is tasty, but the
crust is a nontraditional short bread. The steaks are partially macerated like minute steaks and are therefore tender. Hamburgers, sandwiches, cakes, fruit salads and gallo pinto are decent but ordinary. The coffees are good.

Mexican beef was a plato del dia special and was shredded and seasoned nicely. After the addition of Chilero hot sauce, it could almost pass for Mexican. Huevos rancheros is a bowl of slightly sweet for my taste, but typical Tico, soupy tomato sauce loaded with diced ham and sliced onions over two fried eggs and a tortilla. It is a refreshing variation from the norm.

The menu is a piece of paper with food and drinks listed on both sides. Next to each item is a checkbox. Diners mark their orders and give to the wait staff.
The red and white décor presses many nostalgia buttons, particularly for 50’s diners, the chains In and Out Burgers and Johnny Rocket’s. Even without a counter, the diner theme comes through, including car hop uniforms. Table tops are white on shiny metal pedestals with soda fountain red cushions and backs on the chairs. The music is 70s American. If it were primal rock and roll, I’d look for pegged pants; DA’s and blue suede shoes.
The hours are extraordinary for a suburban area without a casino: 7 a.m. To midnight Sunday through Wednesday and open 24 hours Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The menu, prices and many of the staff are the same at both places. When the new place closes at midnight, the old one stays open until 4 a.m. At the new location, there are no vehicle fumes to smell. The road is busy and laden with trucks, but at a greater distance; not quiet, but easier on the ears.  The prices are a little more than soda-like. Nothing costs as much as ¢ 3,000 but steaks in all forms are ¢ 2,300 or more. Beer, bebidas, batidos, juices and soda run ¢ 500 to 600. Sandwiches and hamburgers average about ¢1,000. The blue plate special is ¢1,685.
**.  $-$$ Telephone 222-6734.

A report from CR-Home Realty
If you are frustrated by literally thousands of so called "realtors," insane pricing and confusing Web sites as you endlessly search for the perfect property in Costa Rica . . . . STOP!!
We believe that the area of GRECIA offers far more than almost any other area of the country for retirees and those seeking a beautiful and peaceful home in which to enjoy life while enjoying the beauty and security which Costa Rica has to offer.
WHY?  ..... read on....

Grecia is Central . . . 50 minutes from San Jose, CIMA hospital, the Multiplaza, sports and cultural events. . . . one half hour from Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela . . . and a little over an hour to the Central Pacific beaches!

Real estate properties in Grecia are still reasonably priced . . . prices here are about 10% of what they are in Escazú and about half of what they are in neighboring Atenas. Grecia is affordable.

The mountains of Grecia offer the perfect climate: 68-82 degrees all year round.

Grecia has its own hospital with excellent professional services and great shopping.  Every Saturday the town is host to one of the best open air markets in the country.  Fruits and vegetables galore.

Grecia is known as the "cleanest city in Latin America"

No howler monkeys or sloths here, but the area is home to countless flocks of parrots and literally thousands of species of birds and butterflies.

Coffee bushes

Fantastic views

 Bustling downtown Grecia

Because of its location and agricultural base (coffee and sugar cane) Grecia is green ALL YEAR ROUND.  

Crime is extremely low here.  No one worries about walking around town at night here.  There are still petty thefts, but neighbors here watch out for each other.

Everyone who visits Grecia and the area comments on the simplicity of life here.  Life here does proceed at a different pace and the lifestyle here takes us back to a simpler time that nearly all of us wish for but cannot have.  Family is still valued here, and Sunday is family day when extended families get together without fail. 

The builders, contractors and craftsmen here are old fashioned. They keep their word, they are excellent craftsmen who take pride in their work AND they honor their contracts. Most importantly, the properties we have available are drop dead gorgeous! Views, rivers, waterfalls, coffee, sugar cane, privacy.  We most likely have exactly what you thought you could never find. 

If this sounds like Paradise (or maybe that we are exaggerating . . .) come and see for yourselves before everyone discovers Grecia.

CR-HOME REALTY     www.cr-home.com     011-506-444-1695   randy@cr-home.com

Extreme makeover readied for U.S. image overseas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The State Department's new public diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes, is preparing to launch a campaign aimed at improving the U.S. public image abroad. It will include a new approach to observing the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Ms. Hughes has sent a cable to U.S. ambassadors abroad urging them to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary in ways that demonstrate that terrorism is not just a challenge faced by the United States, State Department employees report.

The instructions from the State Department's new undersecretary for public diplomacy are an early indication of how Ms. Hughes, a former top aide to President George Bush, intends to try to repair the United States' sagging image around the world, especially in Islamic countries.

In interview remarks published Thursday, Ms. Hughes said she suggested, for example, that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt visit the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the upcoming anniversary, where terrorist bombs killed more than 60 people in late July.

She said that in her cable to embassies, she also urged U.S. diplomatic missions to bring together religious leaders for inter-faith dialogue.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Sept. 11 outreach will be a way to underline that the United States, which lost nearly 3,000 people in the 2001 attacks, stands with and remembers the sacrifices of other countries which have lost innocent lives to terrorism:

"What this is meant to show is that we are all in this fight against terrorism together," he said. "Terrorism doesn't respect boundaries. It doesn't respect religion, it doesn't respect political ideology. This is a fight against extremism, a relatively small group of people dedicated to the use of violence to achieve their ends."

McCormack said Ms. Hughes will outline her strategy for the new post in a town hall meeting with State Department employees next week. She will be joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Details of the program have not been released. But it
is understood to include plans for rapid response
'The Under Secretary helps ensure that public diplomacy (engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences) is practiced in harmony with public affairs (outreach to Americans) and traditional diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for U.S. leadership in the world.'

— From the Web site of
the U.S. State Department

teams able to quickly counter misinformation about U.S. policies carried by foreign news media, including Arab TV news channels.

The New York Times said Thursday this would include more frequent appearances by Bush administration figures on the influential Al-Jazeera network, which has been a harsh critic of U.S. policies.

The Times quoted Ms. Hughes as saying U.S. officials need to convey their message through the media that people are listening to, so they clearly must be more effective in communicating on Al-Jazeera.

Spokesman McCormack said Ms. Hughes, in office only three weeks, has met with among others, Muslim clerics and students, and with members of Djerejian Commission, a panel of experts that issued a report to Congress last October sharply critical of U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

Headed by Edward Djerejian, a former assistant secretary of State, the commission said U.S. public diplomacy was absurdly under-funded. It said that since the end of the Cold War, a process of unilateral disarmament in U.S. advocacy programs had contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans.

Ms. Hughes, who was White House counselor during Mr. Bush's first term, briefed the president on her plans several days ago in Texas.

The public diplomacy job at the State Department had been vacant for more than a year before Ms. Hughes assumed the post last month.

The undersecretary oversees State Department public information, cultural and exchange programs with a budget this year of more than $300 million.


Accused Cuban airline bomber
drops bid for asylum in U. S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Cuban exile and former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operative wanted by Venezuela has dropped his request for asylum in the United States.

But at a hearing in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, lawyers for 77-year-old Luis Posada Carriles said they will continue to argue against his deportation to Venezuela. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for
Sept. 26. Lawyers for Posada Carriles, who was trained by the CIA in the 1960s, argue he could face torture if sent to Venezuela.

Posada Carriles has been accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner in which 73 people were killed. He denies involvement.

Lifestyle coach will talk
at lunch for Republicans

Donald Vega Brenes, a lifestyle coach, will be the featured speaker when the Republicans Abroad of Costa Rica meet for lunch Sept. 13 at Bar B Que Los Anonos in Escazú. Everyone is invited, said the group, and reservations may be e-mailed to   samargo@racsa.co.cr. The price is 5,000 colons.

Brenes is described as involved in corrective high-performance exercise kinesiology, a metabolic typing basic adviser and a golf biomechanic specialist. His topic is stress and stress management.

Jo Stuart
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