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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 174       E-mail us
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Magistrate quits the day before planned protest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Federico Sosto López, the alternate magistrate of the Sala IV constitutional court quit Monday, a day before several citizen groups were planning another protest outside the supreme court building.

The resignation, announced late Monday by the Poder Judicial, is unlikely to halt the protests because the groups also have other complaints. Among others, the groups seeking participants in the protest are the Partido Alianza Patriótica and Grupo Costa Rica En Acción. Both oppose the free trade treaty with the United States, and Costa Rica En Acción goes so far as to say the Oct. 7 referendum was a fraud. Costa Ricans voted then by a narrow margin to approve the treaty.

Sosto has been under fire since it was revealed that he provided advice to the Arias administration. His case is involved with some 82 other individuals and corporate entities who accepted money for various consultancy activities.

The original story broke June 30, but Sosto's name did not come up until the middle of July.

The resignation came in a single paragraph that said the decision was irrevocable and that the secretary general of the court would transmit the decision to the Asamblea Legislativa. Legislators
select the magistrates for the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

Sosto had been supported strongly by the Arias administration. Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, wrote and distributed a letter of support. The resignation comes on the day that President Óscar Arias Sánchez left for Europe for 10 days.

The constitutional court has been in the sights of anti-treaty protesters since it decided that a section of the Costa Rican Constitution holding presidents to one term conflicted with international treaties. The decision allowed Arias to run for a second term and win in February 2006. Ottón Solís probably would have been president without the court decision, and he opposes the free trade treaty.

At the time, former president Luis Alberto Monge said allowing Arias to run again for president amounted to a judicial coup.

The supreme court magistrates also have been under fire for awarding themselves a pay raise that did not filter down to other employees in the judicial system. The court in special session Monday decided to present the question of the pay raise to the fiscal watchdog, the Contraloría General de la República, and to the Procuraduría de la Ética Publica.


blocked roads
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Signs deplore roads only fit for mules and a government that treats citizens as if they do not exist
Unhappy Desamparados residents block roads to get them fixed
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of San Miguel de Desamparados set up a human wall on a stretch of main highway Monday morning and kept the route blocked until the municipal mayor agreed to fix the roads.

Protesters came from eight local neighborhood committees, including that in La Capri, in Los Guidos and in Guazo. They were joined by operators of bus lines and truckers, who also deplored the state of the area roads. The blockade covered more than a mile of the highway and got 
bigger as traffic stopped and backed up.

The highway that was blocked is the main route from Desamparados to Aserrí. The highway was blocked from about 6 a.m. until noon.

In addition to potholes, the protesters sought wider bridges, better walkways for pedestrians and adequate drainage.

Maureen Fallas Fallas, the Desamparados mayor, agreed to start resurfacing and other road work today and to receive a report on inspections next Monday.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 174

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Intelligence chief says
rebels here hard to find


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the country's intelligence unit told lawmakers Monday that Colombian narcotraffickers are hard to detect because they make sure that they do not risk deportation.

The speaker, Roberto Solórzano, director of Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional, said much of the crime in the country today can be traced back to traffickers who pay for services with drugs and not money.

He said that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia is a problem that must be confronted to keep Costa Rica from becoming another Colombia or another México. He also noted that the organization long ago abandoned political ideas to control about 80 percent of the drugs in Colombia.

But the penetration of Fuerzas Armadas agents are hard to detect because some are simply involved in logistics. But these are followed by those involved in trafficking, he said. Those Fuerzas Armadas agents involved in logistics make sure to stay out of criminal actions so they are not discovered and deported, said Solórzano.  And the traffickers have a lot of experience, and they are hard to detect, too, he said.

Several events have sparked legislative interest in the Colombian drug infiltration here.

A major Fuerzas Armadas figure, Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, was located living a seemingly simple life in Puntarenas where he controlled the exterior operations of the organization, including fuel supplies for drug boats.  In addition, investigators have learned that the drug cartel has infiltrated the Costa Rican fishing fleet.

When Colombian soldiers executed a cross-border raid March 1 and killed Raúl Reyes, a top Fuerzas Armadas commander, his confiscated computer gave clues to some $480,000 stashed in a Costa Rican private home.

Ministry cites successes
in 100 dias Limón sweep


By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

A hundred people have been detained and many drugs, weapons and vehicles have been seized in Limón, according to the security ministry.  This new emphasis, called "100 dias Limón," has been cracking down on crime in Limón and will last until Sept. 30.

In the first 63 days of the operation, police detained 100 people and confiscated 184 firearms, eight knives, 43 vehicles, 184 blocks of crack, 1,321 grams of cocaine and searched 6,437 vehicles and 2,668 people, according to ministry statistics.  The Policía de Control de Drogas also destroyed 300,000 marijuana leaves, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.  

The goals of 100 dias Limón are to combat drug use and sales, delinquencies, and violence in Limón, said Assistant Chief Walter Salano.  He also said that when people kill in San José, the papers don't say that it is a dangerous city.  But when people kill in Limón, people say that it is a dangerous city.  He said that just like many cities, there are some parts that are dangerous.

The Policía de Control de Drogas destroyed 262,016 marijuana plants in Talamanca before Aug. 13, said the ministry.  The operation is trying to eliminate drugs because the marijuana seized had the potential to be delivered to thousands of teenagers in the community, said the ministry. 

Friday the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas and the Fuerza Pública navigated the Río Sixaola in the south and by the Barras de Parismina and Tortuguero in the north to examine the condition of the various boats.  

Hours after this, in the Cruce Bananito, the police seized two firearms, a vehicle, and detained three subjects identified with the last names of Fallas Rocha, López Mendoza and Marín Marín.  The three subjects were traveling armed with masks and gloves, police said. 

Saturday police seized firearms and investigated more than 10 people who were entering Matina.  Early the next morning, the authorities from Limón raided the house of a man suspected in the death of a 17-year-old.     

Up until Thursday there were 100 arrests.  Of those, 26 were for violation of drug law, 33 violations of the weapons and explosive laws, one for domestic violence and four for committing a crime against public authority. Some 20 individuals were undocumented and 16 were detained for other reasons, said officials.   

In the first nine weeks of 100 dias Limón, there were eight seizures of knives and 184 firearms including 21 pistols, 16 revolvers, 145 munitiones and other types of weapons.   

According to Salano, Costa Rica was a country of peace but it has changed a lot, due in part to drug addictions.  He also said that the majority of deaths occur because drugs are involved. 

The operation also had 61 road blocks, 6,437 vehicles searched, 2,668 people investigated, 92 citations, 4,737 people verified and 21 detained by Migración. 

Many groups are working on the operation together including the Departamento de Planes y Operaciones of the security ministry, the Dirección Regional de la Fuerza Pública in Limón and also other elements of the ministry. Several other groups are working to make the operation a success including the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional in Limón, the Canine corps, the Unidad de Intervención Policía, zapadores and drug police.

In addition to the Fuerza Pública, other agencies that participate include the Policía de Tránsito, the Policía de Migración, the Policía de Control Fiscal, the Ministerio de Salud, municipalities, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancía, the Ministerio de Educación Pública, prosecutors and the Judicial Investigating Organization.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 174


Court and prosecutors' offices hit by firebombs in Pavas
By Melissa Hinkley
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Flaming objects were hurled at the Fiscalía de Pavas and at the Juzgado Penal Sunday around 11:30 p.m.   The offices were closed, and no one was harmed, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The Poder Judicial said there may also have been a break-in by persons with arson on their mind. Bottles with flammable liquid and wicks were found inside the offices used by prosecutors.

A car passed by the Fiscalía de Pavas and an occupant threw a lighted object at the building, officials said.  Initial collection of evidence is by the Sección de Inspecciones Oculares and the Recolección de Indicios of the Judicial Investigating Organization. 

A dog was also used to look for other clues.       

Flammable material was found inside the two-story Fiscalía
with wicks believed to serve as detonators, according to the Poder Judicial. Authorities also found bent iron gates and open windows which are thought to have been ways someone entered the building. 

The Poder Judicial said it appeared as if a flaming bottle was thrown into the patio of the Fiscalía.  The wall of the kitchen started on fire, but one of the tubes of a refrigerator broke and began to squirt water, which actually helped to extinguish the fire.  Four bottles of flammable liquid and wicks were found near the offices.  Copies of documents with information about the prosecution of various cases also were found.  

In the case of the Juzgado Penal or criminal court building, a bottle with flammable liquid was thrown at the Oficina de Conciliaciones. The ensuing fire burning the curtains and two wooden pieces of furniture, said the Poder Judicial.  No documents were lost, they said.

All evidence is being analyzed in a laboratory as part of the investigation.  


Our readers opinions
Writers comment on real estate article and criminal records

Five blind men see parts
of an elephant differently


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Comments on Garland Baker’s article in A.M. Costa Rica on falling real estate prices in Costa Rica.

This is a classic case of the five blind men each touching a part of an elephant and describing what they feel as if it is the composite of an elephant. Each is correct in what they describe, but, it is totally incorrect to generalize from one part to the whole.

I have been taking guests for over six years to the areas of Costa Rica that I feel are the most desirable for retirement living. I have also been buying and developing properties in one of these areas for more than four years. I have been aware of the prices many of my past guests have paid for lots, raw land, existing housing, and their building costs.

During this time I have been advising my guests that not only are the highly advertised beach and burb areas way more expensive, they are less desirable. This is due to a number of issues like high costs, heavy traffic and high crime.

Garland has assumed that the part of the elephant he is familiar with is representative of all of Costa Rica. One of the areas he mentioned is the Parrita area where most of us would not choose to live for free due to heat, humidity, mosquitoes, travel time and lack of infrastructure. This area has been highly promoted by boiler room hucksters and in no way is representative of Costa Rica or developers of integrity.  

It is my experience, in the areas that I am familiar with, that over these last six years:

• Property prices have been rising at a steady pace

• There remains essentially no violent and very little non-violent crime

• There is an increased desire to buy a valuable piece of property ASAP due to obvious building cost escalation.

• Many guests are signing purchase agreements before they return to their home country.

Maybe one reason things are slowing for the highly advertised, highly hyped, high priced places that Garland mentions is that more and more people are discovering some of these much more desirable places at much more realistic prices.

George Lundquist
Retirement/ and relocation guide



Scaremongering claimed
for our news reporting


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have lived in Costa Rica for several years, and read A.M. Costa Rica daily.  Recently, however, I feel the slant of reporting has been on the side of scaremongering.  The article regarding real estate prices, crime, and assorted other comments is a typical example. 

Mr. Baker based the whole article on one trip to one small area of the country, and followed up his unfounded comments on real estate prices and decline with no data to substantiate his claims.  Then he proceeded to generalize about crime, past political situations, all in a completely negative manner.  Finally, he stated he was "bullish" on Costa Rica — this after a whole article written with the intent of scaring the bejesus out of your readers and attempting to destroy any positive image of Costa Rica.

Granted, crime is a problem in Costa Rica, but compared to most of the rest of Latin America we are still safer than most of the heavily populated areas of the United States.  Although there may be areas where real estate prices have declined due to the decline of the mortgage market in the U.S.A., everywhere you look in Central Valley there is a rush of constructions and the skyline is buildings and construction cranes.  This growth has no relation to the situation in the U.S.A., but is for commerce in Costa Rica.

This type growth is more productive than many of the projects by doubtful developers.

Why don't you try presenting the good side once and awhile?  You owe it to your readers.

Incidentally, I am retired, and have no connections with anyone in real estate in Costa Rica.

Dick Keim
San Rafael de Alajuela
Real estate article was
well done and balanced

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Firstly:   Garland Baker's article on real estate is well done and balanced, maybe a little too much self congratulations and back patting ( what is it they say about hindsight?), but well done and mostly accurate.

There will no doubt be a great deal of denial coming from the Pacific coast realtors who will continue to try to maintain that the markets are still in a "boom mode."   However, as the article points out all one has to do is to take a drive up and down the Pacific coast to see what reality really is.

But what of the Central Valley and the rest of the markets inland?   Are they as affected?  Will prices fall?

What I have seen is a slowing of interest.  There are still shoppers but they are becoming a little more difficult to deal with.   Prices have NOT fallen ( remember, here it is the Ticos who set prices and do you really think that they give a damn about economic problems in the States? ) .  We are not dealing with the buyer who is using primarily discretionary income. We are dealing with the buyer who is seeking to retire here.   And if anything, those people are increasing.   And please also remember that a large percentage of our buyers are from Canada, and they have not been affected by the subprime crisis.  What we are seeing is a perception by buyers that things SHOULD be a little slower and prices should be falling as they are on the coast.

I hope that prices here do correct a little.   We could use a little reality, as Garland Baker says, that markets do not rise forever.   Meantime, baby boomers keep arriving.

Randy Berg
Grecia, Alajuela

He favors wiping clean
criminal and civil records


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
People make mistakes in their lives, and that is a fact. From the time we are born, we as human beings are susceptible to commit errors, from which we hopefully learn and move on.
 
But in some places, there is a vindictive idea which turns into a policy which never ceases to torment those who have been arrested, detained or convicted. And believe it or not, in many cases the practical consequences in civil society are the same whether a person has been simply detained versus actually convicted of a crime. The same is true for civil matters in which a person has been found not to honor some contractual obligation: Their names are forever tainted and nobody will give that person a loan or a second chance, due in part to credit bureaus which do not take into account the passing of time.
 
Our constitutional court has ruled that once a certain amount of time has passed after a person has been arrested or convicted, or after a person has been found at fault in a civil lawsuit, the government has to destroy the records of such events, so as to give the person a new opportunity to act responsibly without the stigma associated with such records. Thus, for criminal matters, records are maintained for 10 years, and for civil matters for four years. This has become known as the person's "right to have such acts forgotten" with respect to a person´s past antisocial conduct.
 
I believe this to be a healthy policy, because in Costa Rica there are no life-long punishments, which are considered cruel and unusual, and because people can genuinely change and live a responsible and charitable life, even after they have made some tragic mistake in their lives.
 
In the Constitutional Court's decision No. 2004-04626, handed down at 12:04 hours on 30 April, 2004, the justices ruled that “every human being needs the recognition of his/her ability to rectify his/her life, which consists of an exercise by the creative force of his/her freedom. If to the negative fact of the error committed, we add the impossibility of restoration and a new creation, life for human beings would be suspended and without further possibilities, at the time they erred.”

Experience teaches us that those countries where the rehabilitation of prisoners is a priority, where no perpetual punishments are permitted, the crime rate goes down dramatically. To respect the life of others, and the possibility of redemption, is to respect and love ourselves as human beings. And because society is made up by individuals, respect for every individual makes a healthier society more achievable.

Arcelio Hernandez
Jacó and San José


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 174


British researchers seek a rare frog that sunbathes here
By the University of Manchester news service

A physicist and a conservationist from The University of Manchester are seeking answers in the rain forests of Costa Rica in a bid to understand more about a deadly fungus that is killing amphibians around the world.

They are physicist Mark Dickinson from the Photon Science Institute and Andrew Gray, curator of herpetology at the Manchester Museum. They are using equipment more commonly used for medical diagnosis to see inside the skin of South American tree frogs.

Infrared reflection spectroscopy and photography does not cause harm or distress and allows images to be obtained from the surface and within the tissue of the frogs, they said. Manchester researchers believe these spectroscopy techniques could hold the key to understanding the alarming global decline in amphibians.

The pair and a former Manchester zoology student, Stephanie Dawson, will spend just over two weeks in Costa Rica.

They will use a stripped down portable version of their usual lab equipment to investigate the skin of tree frogs living in the wild.

The Manchester Museum already boasts a large and unique collection of colourful tree frogs. Gray visits Costa Rica every summer, and this year he is hoping to find a pair of the extremely rare Isthmohyla rivularis frogs, so they can be brought back to Manchester for breeding, before being released back into the wild.

Tree frogs prefer to live on leaves and branches high above the ground. They enjoy basking in the hot sun, which is unusual because frogs normally avoid prolonged exposure to light due to the risk of overheating and dehydration, the researchers noted.

The Manchester team believes global warming is leading to more cloud cover in the tree frogs' natural habitat. They think this is denying the creatures the opportunity to
frog care
University of Manchester photo
Researchers and a frog subject

sunbathe and kill off the Chytrid fungus — a fatal infection that is causing many species to die out.

In their work so far, the team have observed the skin of sun bathing tree frogs sometimes undergoes a visible change and becomes almost metallic in texture. They think that when this happens, the level of absorption and reflection and the skin temperature change.

The British team believes that tree frogs are able to bask under a fierce sun because they have the ability to regulate their body temperature and prevent overheating through the unique structure and properties of their skin.

The researchers are seeking further funding to do more comprehensive research using the spectroscopic and OCT techniques.

They want to use it to compare structural changes in the skin of tree frogs with the structural changes in the skin of frogs that do not have the same high levels of infrared reflectance.

The group plan to visit an amphibian research center in Talamanca before trekking into the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve to begin their search for the Isthmohyla rivularis frog — thought to be extinct until Gray found and photographed it last year.


Ex-policeman is convicted but gets a suspended term 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Alajuela policeman who fed information to drug traffickers cannot serve as a law officer for at least six years, a trial panel decided Monday as they convicted him for his role in a criminal organization.

The man is Leonel Gerardo Umaña González, a former Alajuela municipal policeman, according to the Poder Judicial. He was convicted of giving inside police information to  Marco Corella Benavides, who also was convicted Monday.

Umaña got three years instead of the six sought by the prosecutor. He will not serve any time because with such a
sentence he gets the benefit of a suspended term. The court also ordered him to refrain from public employment for three years more, said the Poder Judicial.

The prosecutor is expected to appeal that sentence.

The people on trial were detained in a raid a year ago. The prosecutor sought 15 years for Corella, a man named Rolando Benavides Corrales and a woman named  Giselle Corella Benavides. The woman got 10 years, and the two men got 12 years, said the Poder Judicial.

Two other men got lesser terms and two were acquitted, said the Poder Judicial. In most cases, convicts in Costa Rica serve about half the sentence that is imposed.


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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

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 week day.

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.

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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.


Newspages

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.



Bolivia's Morales visiting
Iran and Ahmadinejad


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian President Evo Morales is in Tehran for talks with Iranian leaders on energy, investments and bilateral relations.

Morales arrived in the Iranian capital Monday at the head of a high-level Bolivian delegation. He is expected to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During a visit to Bolivia last year, Ahmadinejad pledged more than $1 billion in investments to help develop Bolivia's oil and gas industry.

Bolivia has the largest natural gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

Morales' trip to Iran follows a visit to Libya, where he met with senior Libyan officials Sunday for talks on reinforcing newly established diplomatic relations. The governments of Libya and Bolivia agreed to establish formal ties and cooperate in the energy sector during talks in Bolivia last month.

The two nations are expected to work together to develop Bolivia's natural gas and oil resources, which are mainly in the country's east.

Gustav less than expected
upon hitting Louisiana


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Gustav swept across the Louisiana coast on Monday, bringing torrential rains but doing far less damage than had been feared.

The storm struck the U.S. Gulf Coast southwest of New Orleans, knocking down power lines and creating waves several meters high. Torrential rain buffeted the coast as the storm brushed past New Orleans, losing strength as it headed inland past city of Baton Rouge and into the state of Texas.

Emergency officials are relieved that losses are low. But Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitchell Landrieu says he worries most about the levees and walls that protect populated areas from the swollen Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain.

Three years ago, levees were breached by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina, inundating 80 percent of New Orleans, destroying homes and leaving thousands of people stranded.  More than 1,400 died in that storm and in the chaotic and late rescue effort that followed.

This time, people heeded warnings to evacuate and nearly two million departed from coastal areas in advance of the storm. Rescue efforts have been prompt and well coordinated. An estimated seven persons have died in the United States as a result of the storm.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 174


Former Brooklyn tennis pro seeks to teach sport here
By Melissa Hinkley
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They say you are never to young or too old to play tennis.  Thanks to a Costa Rican municipality and tennis pro Gary Zelman, many living in Costa Rica will get to experience the game.

The sports committee of Escazú is building a new tennis court near the cemetery.  Zelman will bring his expertise to the court, offering private and group lessons.  He taught tennis for 22 years in Brooklyn, New York, before finally making his way to Costa Rica.  His eventual move to Costa Rica took almost 10 years as he visited occasionally since 1999.  Finally, three years ago, he made the move.

“I got tired of the fast paced life.  I was doing 70 hours a week and now I have the best of both worlds; weather, Latin culture, and I get to do what I love,” said Zelman.

Now he teaches tennis lessons to people of all ages, currently ranging from 6 years old to 70 years old.  He said that taking lessons is important because results are quick and the sport becomes more enjoyable.  During the lessons, he said he not only works on the physical part of the game, but also the mental.

“I'm really big into visualizations and analogies," he said.  "It is a way to break down the strokes with pictures in your mind.  It is very tough to do at first but it produces physical results quickly.  I tell them practice, practice, practice but do it correctly.”

Most of the lessons that he is giving right now are private sessions, which cost $30 per hour.  He also offers sessions with two people costing $20 each hour.  Zelman is open to group sessions, but has not done any of those yet in Costa Rica.  Currently, he is looking for other tennis pros so that he can satisfy a larger group of eager tennis
Zelman tennis pro Gary Zelman on a La Sabana court

 enthusiasts.  Said Zelman:

“I get a kick out of making people happy.  When people get into tennis and see quick results they say, 'I can do this'.  And apart from being fun it is very healthy too.”

He also said that when most people go out to play, they just end up chasing tennis balls the whole time because they don't know what they are doing.  “With a pro who's using 150 balls, that is where the benefit is.  You probably can get lessons for less, but you can't get it better,” said Zelman.


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Runner
Photo by Dani Morales
Why is
this girl
smiling?

Reporter-intern Melissa Hinkley is happy because she just finished a 10.5 kilometer race and is experiencing that great feeling such an accomplishment brings.

She reports today on the country's racing culture and the folks who get up early every day to practice.

See her story BELOW!




The entire running team came back on the race course to escort Vilma Lisac to the finish line.
on the way home
Photos by Dani Morales and Monica Morales

Racing is more than a competition, it's a Costa Rican culture
By Melissa Hinkley
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

I read that running is the fourth most popular sport in Costa Rica with soccer coming in first, second and third.  After running my first race in Costa Rica, I couldn't agree more.

I competed in the Fifth Reto Powerade race Sunday in the Centro Comercial la Ribera, Belén.  There were actually two races going on, the 21 K (half marathon) and the 10.5 K (6.2 miles).  I contemplated running in the half marathon because
medal winner
Author and host mother Vilma Lisac
I thought it would be a neat experience, but decided I would run the 10K because I wanted to be able to walk the rest of the week.  

The race was set to begin at 8 a.m. so my host family and I got there a little before 7 to warm up and stretch with their team.  They are on a team that trains for marathons and is composed of people who cover all aspects when it comes to physical condition, age, size, shape, gender and so on.  Their team follows a program devised by a trainer.

Once a week, they have group sessions where they train together as a team.  I trained with them last Saturday, which was actually my first encounter with formal running in Costa Rica.  We started at 6 a.m., which seems to be very common in Costa Rica because of the heat, and then ran 15 kilometers (almost 10 miles).  We ran as a team, although slightly spread out, weaving through the mountainside and passing coffee plantations, small neighborhoods and curious observers. 

I got a very unique tour through the rural parts of the western Central Valley that I would otherwise never have seen.  I noticed several things on that 15K run as I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and great companionship.  I figured out that running for Costa Ricans is not just about the competition.  Ticos value the time spent together as friends, as relatives and as fellow runners.  Running is something that bonds them together and gives them a passion to share. 

The support they show not only for team members, but also fellow competitors, is amazing.
At the Powerade race many participants were running simply because they enjoy running.  Others were there to lose weight and stay in good physical condition.  And, of course, there were people there who were training for other marathons, and they were ready to win the race. This combination of people made for a lively atmosphere, considering there were 2,500 people running, plus family and other personnel.  There were people everywhere bouncing around in their short shorts, sneakers laced up, and sweat beginning to drip.  The sun was shining, the music was loud and upbeat, and the race was about to begin. 

The actual race itself was somewhat uneventful for me.  I ran the 6.2 miles in around 50 minutes, so that was just a small detail when thinking about the whole experience.  The run was a cool experience though, because there were so many people along the way cheering runners on, handing out water and Powerade, and squirting participants with hoses.  I wasn't quite sure if they were squirting us to cool us off or because they thought it was funny. Either way it just added to the experience. 

When I finished the race, there were many on the team who were still running.  Most people went and refreshed themselves with complimentary drinks and fruit, but as members from my team would finish, they would stay around and cheer as their teammates crossed the finish line.  My host mom here in Costa Rica just started running about a year ago, and she is training for the Chicago Marathon in October.  During this race she was running the half marathon.  Although she is not as fast as some of the other speedy runners, she is a trooper.  As the organizers were taking down their booths and picking up trash, she was still running.  She didn't finish the race alone though.  No, she finished the race in 2 hours and 45 minutes with her entire team following behind her for support.  My new favorite phrase is “Ya lo tiene”, which basically means, “you can do it!”    

So, as I have been thrown head first into the culture of running, I have realized that running in Costa Rica is so much more then just running.  It is not hard to become involved in the culture. All that is necessary is a pair of sneakers, a good attitude, and a friend to squirt you with the hose.  There is a race nearly every weekend somewhere. To see results from past races and to check out upcoming races, those interested can visit Ticomania.com.


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