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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, Sept. 4, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 175              E-mail us
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Moderate earthquake strikes nation's southern zone
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted at 12:10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 6)
 
An earthquake estimated at 4.5 magnitude took place shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday. The U.S. National Earthquake Center said the epicenter was 10 kms (5 miles) east and north of Golfito in southern Costa Rica.

The quake, which had a duration of about two minutes, was felt in San José and along the Pacific coast.  Nearly all the   seismographs  at
Universidad Nacional's Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica recorded the temblor.
 
There was no immediate reports of major damage. A quake of this magnitude would be expected to break windows and do some structural damage in areas adjacent to the epicenter. The precise time of the start of the quake was 11:02:46, said the earthquake center. The depth was listed at 44.9 kms (27.9 miles). The location and depth are estimated by computer and are not exact.

Fútbol, auction, Japanese are part of active weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend is shaping up to be unusually full of events, from the two days of the traditional Japanese Cultural festival in downtown San José to the Women's Club of Costa Rica auction Sunday. There even are events specifically for youngsters.

Women's Club auction

More than 200 items have been donated to the auction: restaurant dining, holiday accommodation, jewelry, art work, home accessories, and personal services from spas, dentists, physiotherapists, nutritionists, tennis and golf pros, the club said, noting that all the funds go to support the long-established children’s education programs.

Franklin Chang Diaz, the veteran astronaut with three space walks to his credit, is expected to appear electronically. He will visit from Houston, Texas, via Skype video, the club said to support the Sunday event.

“Dr. Chang is an inspiration for the future leaders of Costa Rica and we are thrilled to have him support our children’s education programs,” said Bonnie Murry, president of the Women’s Club of Costa Rica. The auction is from 2 to 6 p.m. on the 17th floor of the Aurola Holiday Inn in downtown San José.  Chang’s video interview is scheduled for 3 p.m.

While the majority of items are bid in silent auction format, the club said that the afternoon will conclude with the live auction of some of the most sought-after items of art work, beach accommodation and airline tickets. Event tickets  are 15,000 colons each or two for 25,000 colons at the door, at fundraising@wccr.org, by calling 2268-3748 or by contacting the Association of Residents of Costa Rica at 2221-2053, said the club.

Japanese week 2009

The Japanese festival of traditional culture begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, the CENAC. It runs through Sunday at 5 p.m. However, at 9 a.m. Saturday there is an oratory contest in Japanese for foreign speakers of that language.

Japanese week has many events and runs through Sept. 20. This Saturday the festival inauguration ceremony is at 11 followed by Japanese dance and martial arts demonstrations until noon. There also are jujitsu, judo, kendo, aikido and karate demonstrations through the afternoon. A discussion of bonsai techniques begins at 4 p.m. and runs until the closing at 5 p.m.

Sunday sees several contests, including one of karaoke and a gymnastic presentation at 11:30 a.m. There also will be many stands with information.
Sponsors include the Embassy of Japan and Alianza Francesa.


Faroles workshop

Saturday the Museos del Banco Central will be hosting children for what is being called an eco-farol workshop.

Faroles are the hanging street lanterns that have become a symbol of independence. They are said to be the type of lantern citizens used when they took to the streets in 1821 to learn about freedom from Spanish rule in Central America.

The new twist Saturday is that the museum workers plan to show youngsters how to construct the faroles from recycled materials. Some are elaborate works of art that can be seen the evening of Sept. 14 when runners bring the antorcha, the torch of liberty through the metro area. Sept. 15 is the 188th celebration of the country's liberty but a lot of the action is the night before. Sept. 15 is a legal holiday.

The faroles workshop is from 10 to noon Saturday in the vestibule of the museums under the Plaza de la Cultura.
Torch graphic
Museos del Banco Central graphic
Promotional representation of faroles


Puccini in Liberia

Selections from "Suor Angelica," the Giacomo Puccini one-act opera, will be presented in the Gimnasio Muncipal in Liberia Saturday at 7 p.m. The Opera de Camara from San José will be featured in this event supported by the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes and the foundation of the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar.


Día del Niño

The Municipalidad de San José will be celebrating Día del Niño with some 1,500 youngsters officials call environmental superheroes because of their work throughout the year. The event is at the Complejo Recreativo de los Servidores Municipales, in Pavas from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Youngsters come from such communities San Sebastián, Hatillo, Mata Redonda, Merced, Uruca and San Francisco as well as Pavas. The youngsters have participated in discussions about the environment and community cleanups.


New bank mascot

BN TEC, a new persona created by the Banco Nacional will be joining the celebration of the Día del Niño at the Parque de Diversiones today,
Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., said the bank. The park is in west San José near Hospital México and it is a día del Niño hotspot.

BN TEC represents the traits desired in young Costa Ricans, said the bank: He is a youth 17 years old, tall, dark and athletic who likes sports, various types of music and technology. He is a good student who promotes the culture of savings to youngsters from 7 to 12 years for whom the bank is offering a credit card called Cool Plus.


Costa Rica faces México

Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, is the battle ground for one of the major games of the year for the country's national team. Even President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be there, said Casa Presidencial. The game starts at 8 p.m. Look for demonstrations downtown and at key intersections later if Costa Rica wins.


Festival la Pasada

Sunday is the day of the traditional return to the basilica in Cartago by the statue of the Virgen de los Ángeles. The event is accompanied by carpets of flowers and a procession. After the religious event, at the Plaza Mayor de Cartago there is an exhibition from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. of products typical of the region. There also will be performances by the Grupo Folklórico Tierra y Cosecha, the Banda Nacional de Cartago, Duvalier Quirós and Xiomara Ramírez and Gerardo y Los Hicsos. 

The event is sonsored by the Cámara de Comercio, Industria, Turismo y Servicios de Cartago with sponsorship by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and by various private firms.


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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 175

Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-7575

Puriscal Properties
sportsmens update
Click HERE for great hotel discounts

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Our readers' opinions
Costa Rican prices seem
high compared to Arizona


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Having lived in Costa Rica for 13 years, it is my opinion that Garland Baker is spot on.  I lived in downtown San José for 10 years. Anyone who disagrees is in denial.

Over the last six months 98 percent of my expat friends have left Costa Rica, never to return again.  They left for the reasons outlined in Garland’s article.  Many returned to the U.S. to seek lower prices.

Yes, lower prices.  I was recently in Scottsdale, Arizona, and found some hotels half the price of the hotels in Costa Rica.  Apartment rents, real estate prices, clothing, electronics, food and some restaurants are half the price as well.

With the economic downturn, many seniors must return to work and startup small businesses which is nearly impossible in Costa Rica.  Too much red tape, hassles and nonsense to be productive.  Not to mention pirates around every corner, in my opinion.

Regarding the crime comparisons to the U.S., I have never heard of someone in the U.S. getting shot and expiring over a cell phone.  Few thieves in the U.S. and around the world shoot first before asking for money and valuables.

Clinica Biblica and my doctor recently gave me a written and verbal quote of $4,000 to remove my gall bladder.  Their insurance department informed me that it was their policy not to provide me with a copy of my medical bills and billed my insurance company for $12,000. My insurance company investigated me and it took months to get paid.  I returned to the hospital and reviewed their file in archives and someone had pulled the written quote out of the file.  The cost in Thailand for the same operation is $3,000 and $2,000 in India.

Many laws in Costa Rica make no sense to me, whatsoever.  It seems they want to put more of their citizens/residents out of work.  A perfect example is the new casino law where gaming tables and slot machines are closed for most of the day.  I have visited 35 countries over the last 62 years and never had a bank cashier try to steal money from me several times.  When I reported the theft to his supervisor several times, the manager just laughed.

Now the Costa Rican police are trying to shake down Gringos as they walk alone downtown.

In my opinion, it is too late for Costa Rica.  The word is out and to my knowledge there is not a web site in the world recommending Costa Rica.  It will take years and millions of dollars in advertising to get good people to return so they can lead productive and safe lives.
Jim Peck
San Jose


The money flows north
instead of being invested here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have really enjoyed Garland Baker’s article published on Monday and the subsequent responses.  One respondent, I believe, has put his finger on the basic reason for many of the problems/unsightly cultural differences of Costa Rica and also applies to other Central American countries:  Lack of a true national pride except, of course, when applied to fútbol.  The vast majority of the wealthy/ruling elite of the country exhibit this lack of national pride by keeping most of their moneys out side of the country (in Florida and Texas banks and other U.S. investments).

I began traveling to Costa Rica on a regular basis in 1970 and have stayed various times up to six months at a time.  I married a Honduran in 1972 (still married) and became a member of a family who are professionals who exhibit this trait of not investing in their own country.

This lack of local investment creates an attitude of like being on a perennial tropical vacation.  They use the cheap local labor to build their beautiful homes/ranches, but when they come across extra funds, it goes north to avoid local inflation and uncertainties.   It is not plowed back into the local economies to fuel local lending for small businesses, infrastructure, development, etc.  And everyone of the middle and lower classes know this.
Darrell Ward
San Diego, California


Police shakedown victim
tells his two-year-old tale

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Two years ago this coming October I was visiting Costa Rica for the fourth time.  I was having the time of my life as I usually do in this beautiful country.  I was between excursions to some the more beautiful parts of the country and did not have a date for the evening so I decided to go gambling at the Hotel Del Rey. 

I arrived at perhaps 10 in the evening and decided to get right to the gambling.  I lost 10 dollars at first on a poker machine, so I went and sat in the bar to have some drinks and talk with some of the patrons and ladies.  After awhile I decided to try my luck again, and I almost immediately won $150 and decided that was it time to go home to my hotel in Escazú.  It was perhaps 1:00 in the morning as I walked to my car parked two blocks away. 

Before I got to my car three police officers stopped me and searched me for guns or drugs as they said. Well I did not have either, so they let me go.  When I got to my hotel I discovered that the $150 I had won was no longer in my back pocket.  I hope the officers that are being shaken down now are the ones who so politely robbed me on that evening two years ago.
Paul Knippel

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 175

August was a great month
Your Costa Rica

Shakedown suspects suspended but are not placed in jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial has confirmed that one of the 12 police officers detained Wednesday in a bribery and corruption investigation was the captain in charge of the downtown area. He is Carlos León Retana.

The disclosure came as the Poder Judicial said that the  Juzgado Penal de Turno Extraordinario had let nine of the 12 men, including León, free to await further investigation. They have been suspended from their jobs.

Later, the other officers were reported to have received the same treatment. The men are accused of taking bribes from criminals who sought to avoid arrest. They also are accused of shaking down residents and visitors and of holding some individuals without legal authority.

Nearly 60 other policemen also are under investigation, and it is unclear if they, too, will be brought to court or if their cases will be heard in the internal process handled by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The ministry has not said if the five dozen other officers continue on the job.

In addition to León, those facing investigation were identified by the last names of Barquero Arce, Marín Navarro, Serrano Gamboa, Calvo Calderón, Barquero Soto, López Quirós, Montenegro Ortiz, Calderón Víquez,  Venegas Valverde, Muñoz Salazar and Sandoval Benavides.

According to the Poder Judicial, those who faced a court hearing earlier Thursday were told they would be suspended
from their jobs for six months, that they should not go near witnesses, victims or workplaces and that they had to sign in at the prosecutor's office every 15 days. These are typical requirements for suspects who are not jailed.

The shakedown operation appears to have been constructed to follow the chain of command for the Fuerza Pública. Victims in the case suggest that the police had become so aggressive in taking money from criminals and the innocent alike that complaints began to flow in to the security ministry. Also subject to shakedowns were operators of small businesses like bars and restaurants who would be visited by Fuerza Pública officers on some pretext. Other easy victims were expats.

That the regional captain, León, is a suspect raises the possibility that others higher up also were involved. Typically, police in a corrupt organization share their illegal income with senior officers who provide the protection and warning system for the street patrolmen who actually collect the money.

Even in Costa Rica there is a tradition of police not informing on illegal actions of their comrades. That kind of loyalty was treated in depth in the Peter Maas book "Serpico," which recounted the problems faced by an honest New York City police detective. Frank Serpico, the detective, went public to The New York Times after a prolonged effort to alert high-ups in the New York City police department to corruption within the force. The Times articles resulted in then-mayor John Lindsay creating a special commission to look into police corruption.

No such effort has been suggested for Costa Rica.


A week that is punctuated by remembered lyrics
I began the week recalling the words to “Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man.” I wondered why that tune came into my head out of the blue, and I looked up the lyrics. Herein are some as sung by Henry Higgins:

“Now and then there’s one with slight defects,
But by and large we are a marvelous sex.
Why can’t a woman behave like a man.”

Well, the answer is easy, Henry.  Because women speak a different language, we were enculturated differently, we have different values and, besides, we don’t want to be more like you.  However, it is true, men are stronger than women and that has its consequences.

I suppose, if the sexes were countries, and both were republics (“a state or nation in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote. . . .”) then the male republic would favor capitalism, and the female would be a social republic.

While I was thinking about that, I began humming “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.” ala Streisand. And a little later, like Monty Python, I began pondering if not the meaning, the purpose of life. Is it a race to the top of the heap, or should one take the time to smell the flowers? (Which you don’t bring me any more)

Very often I ponder as I walk, and tend to think metaphorically, which I was doing.  On the practical level, I decided to explore Plaza Rohrmoser a little more. I usually go to Plaza Mayor because I am accustomed to shopping at the AutoMercado there.  Plaza Rohrmoser is on the Pavas road and has MasxMenos and the charm of having its food court on an open-air balcony.  Besides the typical fast food counters, there are some more upscale chains like a Japanese restaurant and an Italian one.  Since I’d recently had some sushi, I sat down at the Italian restaurant.  My choice was from the “light” menu, which was a small thin crusted pizza with salmon and arugula. It did not include, but I asked for tomato sauce.  (I am from the old school that thinks all pizzas should have tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil and some herbs, but I decided not to push it.)   It was tasty and would have been delicious had it been hotter.

After lunch I walked the length of the plaza, partly for the exercise and partly to see if there were any surprises.  As it turned out, there was one.  Two people were standing at the open door of a darkened interior of a large room with what looked like slot machines.  It was a mechanized bingo parlor!  And I guess, not being considered a casino, was open before 3 p.m.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 
I simply wasn’t curious enough to pass out of the sunshine to explore the dark cavern even though one of the door keepers gave me a flyer offering 1,000 colons, for what I didn’t find out because somewhere, as I walked, I lost it.  Lately I have been losing things right from under my nose.

There were a couple of shoe stores, but they were quite disappointing.  Why are all the shoes either totally flat sandals or have five-inch heels the thickness of needles?  For years I have been looking for a nice casual shoe with a two-inch heel. But even the wedgies are topple over high.  My complaints, of course, are showing my age.  I see young Ticas walking on the five-inchers with toes so pointed they should be declared lethal weapons. 

The plaza also has a Banco Nacional branch that is open from 1 until 7 p.m.  So later this week I returned to the Plaza to pay my rent.  The guard who opened the door told me to take a seat in front of the people behind the desks.  I didn’t have time to take out my book before it was my turn.
As I left the bank, I told guard it was a “un banco muy amable.”  He smiled.   “Para servirle,” he said.

Leaving the plaza, I was stopped in my tracks by some items in the corner store — one of those stores that carries everything.  I had stopped to look (not smell) the fake flowers in the windows and right next to them, guess what!  Christmas pillows and Santa dolls!  Oh my goodness, of course, it is September, and I’m in Costa Rica!

I briefly wondered why Costa Rica wasn’t more like other countries that don’t start touting Christmas until after Thanksgiving or maybe Halloween.

Nevertheless, as I walked to the bus stop, I found myself singing Billy Joel’s “Don’t go changin’ just to please me… I’ll take you just the way you are.”
               
"Speaking of behaving more like a man, Viola tries that with surprising consequences in "Twelfth Night or As you Will,"  Shakespeare's comedy showing at the Laurence Olivier Theatre beginning tonight.  (You can see her in person by  8858-1446 for reservations).


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 175

TDMA cell phones get a reprieve from December cutoff
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a clear recognition that the telephone business is not a monopoly any more, the nation's former monopoly is backpedaling on eliminating first-generation cell phones.

The company said Thursday that it will not end TDMA service in December. Instead, it hopes that those who have TDMA cell lines will voluntarily accept one of the 200,000 GSM lines that will go into service at the end of the year.

The company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, is perhaps aware that by killing the TDMA service it will set
loose phone customers who might end up with a private rival startup. The company had said repeatedly that it will eliminate the older TDMA service by the end of this year.

Despite being an older system, the TDMA service frequently is more reliable, although users do not get Internet service or other modern options.

Elbert Durán, director of corporate communications for the company said that there were about 350,000 customers of the older technology. One reason is that cell lines for TDMA service always have been available while there is a waiting list for newer and less reliable phones.


New business will try to help foreigners salvage investments
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen with 28 years of experience here in real estate brokering and development is starting a referral service for persons defrauded by property developers.

The man is David F. Sagel, and the company is Costa Rica Property Rectification S.A. Sagel makes it clear that he is not a lawyer, although he had had significant experience helping victims in at least six major property fraud cases.

Sagel said he expects to have as clients those North Americans and Europeans who purchased or made substantial deposits on condos and other projects in anticipation of constructions. A lot of the projects are stalled and some never really got started. In some cases, developers have failed to install promised infrastructure. Some have just walked off with the money.

Property Rectification will be the intermediary between its clients and the attorney, said Sagel. After preliminary discussions and exchange of correspondence, he said he will create a file and report for each client. The file will contain copies of all purchase contracts, titles, property plans, correspondence, sales literature, bank transfers, receipts for payments and the mortgage contract if there is one. The file will be turned over to a lawyer.

The completed file will be given to the attorney to serve as the basis for initial legal opinions.

Sagel plans to charge for creating an initial report on the property that will give foreigners outside the country an idea of what has happened. The objective of the report is to advise the investor of the current physical and legal position of his or her property, he said. His company will, if requested, suggest financial alternatives, taking into consideration the investor's intentions regarding the property, he added.

Sagel also seeks to draw a distinction between developers who got into trouble because of the downturn in sales and
the economic crisis and the out-and-out scammers. He added:

"By far the majority of private Costa Rican property developers are hard working, ethical, experienced and professional.  Only a small number fall into a questionable category causing investors to seriously doubt the security of their investment.

"All investors in the United States or Costa Rica should bear in mind the U.S. recession was caused, amongst other reasons, by mismanagement of banks and mortgage companies leading to a severe curtailment of credit and ensuing foreclosures, by the creation of ethically questionable sub-prime mortgages and securitization of these instruments, and by Federal Reserve Board low interest rate policies financing the housing and stock market booms.

"The repercussions of U.S. economic conditions on Costa Rican property development, and the ensuing construction and legal problems, exacerbated by a substantial decline in sales, have had a serious negative effect on the development industry.  The Costa Rican property market and its many reputable developers will revive in anticipation of revitalized demand."

Sagel a former stock broker in the United States, said he was prompted to create the business after he saw an article in A.M. Costa Rica about three women from the United States concerned about the $300,000 they had invested in beach property.
 
A.M. Costa Rica has pointed out that the prosecutors in the fraud section of the Judicial Investigating Organization say they have nearly 1,000 complaints involving developers who did not live up to their contract. Although Costa Rican courts do not accept class action suits, Sagel will be able to channel similar cases to a lawyer for a joint court action that individually the property owners could not afford. He said one case in which he was involved went on for 10 years.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 175

Casa Alfi Hotel

U.S. cuts more financial aid
to Honduran government


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States says it is cutting a broad range of economic aid to Honduras, over the June 28 ouster of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The State Department's announcement on Thursday came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the deposed Honduran leader in Washington.

The decision came a day after Zelaya urged U.S. leaders to take tougher actions in condemning his removal from power more than two months ago.

Thursday, the State Department made permanent a suspension of some $30 million in aid imposed after Zelaya was deposed. In a statement, the State Department said the decision was made in recognition of the de facto regime's failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras.

During a press briefing in Washington, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Philip Crowley urged the interim Honduran government to accept a Costa-Rican brokered plan that would reinstate Zelaya. "Today's action sends a clear message to the de facto regime that the status quo is unacceptable and that their strategy to try to run out the clock on President Zelaya's term of office is unacceptable," he said.

The State Department on Thursday stopped short of formally calling Zelaya's ouster a military coup d'etat, which carries with it harsher aid penalties mandated by Congress. In its statement, the State Department said Clinton's decision "recognizes the complicated nature of the actions" that led to the Honduran president's departure.

Zelaya's arrest by Honduran troops and deportation to Costa Rica was triggered by his efforts to hold a referendum that could have kept him in office beyond the end of his term in January. Coup supporters said the left-leaning Zelaya sought to violate the country's constitution, and that interim President Roberto Micheletti was legally installed.

State Department officials said Thursday the restoration of the terminated assistance will be dependent upon a return to democratic governance in Honduras.

Officials say the U.S. will not recognize the outcome of presidential elections scheduled for November, under current conditions. Assistant Secretary of State Crowley expressed hope that all sides in the political impasse will be able to reach an agreement soon.

"This is about getting to January 27, 2010, where you have a new government in place in Honduras, one that has come into office through legitimate means and one that the people of Honduras can believe in, and one that the United States and the rest of the region can support," he said.

Aside from the cut in aid, the State Department on Thursday also announced it would revoke the U.S. visas of an unspecified number of Honduran officials, who are backing Micheletti.

Reporters were briefed in a telephone interview by State Department officials who would not give their names. One said that "this has never been about the person of President Zelaya. President Obama has made very clear, the secretary has made very clear, the international community has been very clear this is about the restoration and the defense of — the collective defense of democracy in the Western Hemisphere. And the San José Accord – the second point here is the San José Accord, one of the key attributes of that – of the process that President Arias laid out is that it addresses not only the events of June 28th, but also those conditions that contributed to the events of June 28th, and allows a restoration of democratic and constitutional order in a way that addresses the concerns of all involved.

Ósacr Arias authored a set of proposals in early May. The first point was immediate reinstallation of Zelaya as president.  The United States considers the Arias plan the most viable and said that if the interim government accepts it that would mean a lot for recognition of the November elections.

Said the State Department: "A positive conclusion of the Arias process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed. We strongly urge all parties to the San José talks to move expeditiously to agreement."
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 175

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More persons are detained
in cloned ticket investigation


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators made two raids Thursday, one in Heredia and one in Guadalupe. They arrested three current employees of the ticketing firm Special Ticket. A fourth person is a former employee of that company.

The four are facing allegations that they were involved in the cloning of tickets to major events like the Costa Rica-México soccer game Saturday night.

The Poder Judicial confirmed the raids. Agents said they found blank tickets and tickets for past events. They suggested that the ticket cloning operation had been going on for a year or more. Special Ticket has contracts with event organizers to produce and market their tickets.


Official religion clause
target of legislative bill


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative proposal to change the Costa Rica Constitution to delete the designation of the Roman Catholic faith as the the country's official religion is beginning to see growing opposition.

A proposal would eliminate that designation and also change the oath new office holders take to remove a reference to God.

Some legislative deputies have come out in support of the change, noting that Costa Rica is fast becoming a pluralistic society.

However, the true test will come Monday after priests and pastors have a chance to address their congregations. One lawmaker who represents evangelical interests said that removing the references to religion would open up the country to unfavorable secular trends.

Meanwhile, Thursday Hugo Barrantes, the archbishop of San José, was at the legislature testifying against what is now being called the Ley de Sociedades de Convivencia. He said the bill is unconstitutional and noted that the legislative effort is just a gay marriage bill with a new name.

Also testifying before the Comisión Especial de Derechos Humanos was Sixto Porras, a local representative of Focus on the Family, a conservative and religious political group based in Colorado.





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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 175

chef's lasagna
Two large shrimp crown lasaña de chile pimienton.

Heredia' chef's signature dish
is lasagna without the pasta


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Chef Ruben Naranjo at the recently remodeled Bar Restaurant Alex Seth Friends in Santa Barbara de Heredia has as his signature dish  lasaña de chile pimienton. 

A former soccer player turned chef (he was formerly with the Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio), Ruben said “Well, this lasagna does not have cheese or pasta, so it is a bit different. In fact it is based on sweet red chiles, avocados and shrimp.”

Directions: 

Wash two sweet red chiles and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes until skin is blistered. Immerse in cold water and remove skin, reserve. 

Take a ripe, large Haas avocado and cut into small cubes and put in mixing bowl with the juice of two Mesino limes (yellow flesh without seeds), white onion finely chopped, cilantro, the skin of half a tomato finely chopped with salt and pepper to taste.  

Take eight pinky shrimp and two jumbo prawns and clean and place in bowl.  Take a frying pan and saute the shrimp in olive oil with a bit of finely chopped white onion, a tablespoon of brandy and a tablespoon of white wine until liquid burns off.  Set aside.

Assemble the lasagna on a plate by placing one red chile on bottom and spooning on the guacamole mix with four pinky shrimp; make another layer and on top put a red chile or two with nothing on it.  Take the two jumbo prawns and skewer them to the top with toothpicks and green pimiento olives.  Great as an appetizer or side dish.

A.M. Costa Rica invites recipes from chefs at other food establishments and from readers. Photos are great, too. Send them to editor@amcostarica.com.


Mamon chinos
Ministerio de Agricultra y Gandería photo  
White layer around the see is what the fuss is all about.

Seasonable fruit makes inroads
in commercial production here


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 400 producers of mamón chinos have about 800 hectares (nearly 2,000 acres) planted in the fruit. The country has become the largest exporter of the product in Central America, according to the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Seven years ago the ministry was encouraging the planting of the fruit in the southern zone as a barrier to citrus diseased that might come in from Panamá. Now that area and the Caribbean coast
mamon chino
Enough for a ight snack
product commercial quantities of the small, red or yellow spiny fruit.

The principal producing areas in the southern zone are the cantons of  Corredores, Osa, Ciudad Cortés and Pérez Zeledón. In the Provincia de Limón, the commercial producing areas are  Pococí, Guácimo and Siquirres.

More than 1,800 metric tons are exported each year to El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to  Alberto Montero González, head of the
ministry's section of non-traditional fruits. Although the fruit is cheap in Costa Rica, a kilo shipped to the United States brings from $4 to $7, the ministry said.

There are two types of mamón chino in the country.  The more traditional one is called chupachupa. This is not a freestone variety, and some say the fruit is not sweet. A new variety is  a freestone, and the edible pulp pulls from the pit easily. The ministry had distributed more than 40,000 saplings of this type over the last five years, and officials are encouraging farmers to substitute the more marketable variety for what they might now have.

The fruit is about as big as a golf ball, but a lot easier to nibble. Vendors sell both the red and yellow varieties from July through November. The mamón chino is called rambutan in Asia. The Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.

The spiky, red or yellow fruit is held between the fingers and the top is bitten just enough to remove the hard outer shell. Inside is a sweet, pulpy mass surrounding a big seed.

The seed is edible but usually should be roasted first. It is the pulp that the casual nibbler seeks. Throughout the downtown and elsewhere in Costa Rica mamón chino-lovers can be seen walking along chomping at the fruit. Purdue University reports that the roasted seeds are said to be narcotic. The fruit can be made into a syrup or canned, but most are eaten fresh.

Costa Rican officials fear that the introduction of the citrus disease leprosis will cause great economic loss to the country. So they have established a line of control along the frontier of Panamá and seek to eradicate completely citrus trees inside this area adjacent to the border.

The mamón chino is one of the alternatives, the ministry said. The fruit can be grown from seed, but someone doing this runs the risk of lavishing effort on male trees that do not produce fruit. Montero recommends that farmers use cuttings and grafting to maintain a high quality of fruit.


potatoes
Cardiologists do not recommend the
editor's bacon and garlic Cartago potato medley.
For recipe, see below.

Cartago shows off complexities
of its cusine with contest


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


There is a lot more to the Provincia de Cartago than potatoes, and cooks of the communities have joined together to prove that.

The event last month was another of the culture ministry's efforts to capture the nation's traditions.

When most Costa Ricans think of Cartago, the words chilly and potatoes leap to their minds. The province, centered around the Canton of Cartago is generally higher than communities in the Central Valley. Cartago itself at 1,435 meters is 274 meters (about 900 feet) higher than the bulk of San José.

That may be bad for sunbathing, but the weather is great for temperate vegetable crops, including the potato, carrot, onions and even the chayote. And these work their way into the area's traditional menus.

There are seven other cantons, La Unión, Jiménez, Turrialba, Oreamuno, Alvarado, El Guarco and Paraíso. Each has developed their own variations on food. After all, they have had plenty of time. Cartago was founded in the middle of the 16th century, and Spanish settled in the region due to the healthy climate. The city was the nation's capital until 1823.

The region is also known for its conservatism, so one can expect that the Spanish tradition will be a strong influence on the local foods.

Garlic Cartago potatoes

By popular demand (Well, we got some e-mails, anyway), we include the editor's famous garlic potato medley shunned by cardiologists the world over.

Ingredients:

2 cans of Imperial (or similar) beer
half pound bacon (200 grams más o menos)
1 large onion
12 toes of garlic (more or less)
12 small (golf ball size potatoes or six tennis ball size) Cartago potatoes
cup of olive oil
Whatever extra seasonings you like such as Italian or Mexican or maybe you like parsley, thyme, bay leaves, or cilantro.

Procedure

Open and start drinking the first can of beer.

Cut into smaller pieces and start frying bacon in large fry pan.

In a few minutes combine chopped onion and chopped garlic in the frying pan. Put in the seasoning you like now. Add about half the oil. Keep heat moderate to let the tastes meld.

Don't forget the beer.

Wash and clean the small Cartago potatoes. Nuke them in a microwave for from 5 to 7 minutes.  Then chop them into sixths or eighths.

Don't forget the beer.

Put the potatoes in the same frying pan with the onions, bacon, and garlic for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the rest of the oil. Then after a few minutes transfer the entire dish to a metal or glass baking dish and stick in a pre-heated oven.

Depending on the time for dinner, cover with foil to keep garlic, onions and bacon from burning. Make sure to remove the foil during the last 10 minutes to make the potatoes slices crisp.

Reward yourself with the second beer. (This is really a beer-type dish. But port after dinner goes well, too.)

Serve with beer and meat of your choice, perhaps a pork roast.

mixture of nature's boundy

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas  
Vitamin on the half shell to eat out of hand or in drinks.
From left, a seedy grandilla, a naranjilla with dark interior, a guava,
starfruit and a piece of snowy white
guanabana

A few thousand colons provides
a bounty of delicious fruits


By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delights from star fruit to guavas to the prickly guyabana and the delicate naranjilla are on the market now, and you can get your daily dose of vitamin C with little trouble.

In water, milk or cocktails, the fruits give up their delicious tastes.

The rainy season brings pure water to revitalize the earth and improve the environment. It also gives a boost for some fruits. And this is a good time to explore fruity options.

Costa Rica has a long list of delicious tropical varieties rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C.

Blending fruits with water to make a refresco is common in Costa Rican homes. Water is preferred for its lower costs, but the daring can try milk and even cream for some of the fruit. Watch out for seeds if a blender is to be used.

A reporter went to the Mercado Central with a few thousand colons to seek out fresh fruit. Another option is the ferias del agricultor, but many markets are just one day a week.

At the central market there were at least guayabas, maracuyas, carambolas, naranjillas and guanabanas.

Here is what they are:

The guayabas or guavas are 1,100 colons a kilo, about $1.93. The baseball-size green fruit has five small protrusions on the flower end. Some fruits have up to 500 seeds but they can be eaten.  They are Mexican or Central American natives now found all over the world.

The carambola is the starfruit now grown locally and available in most North American supermarkets but not at 600 colons a kilo, or a bit more than $1. The whole fruit, including skin, can be eaten.

The maracuyá is the passion fruit or what is called grandilla here in Costa Rica. They are available for 850 colons a kilo, about $1.50. The fruit can be several colors, but most here are yellow. There are plenty of seeds. They can be eaten but some folks like to strain them for juice.

The naranjillas (1,500 colons per kilo) are like tiny oranges, with lots of seeds and a dark interior. They can be eaten out of hand, and the juice is green. Unripe fruits are sour but can be eaten with sprinklings of salt.

The guanabana is the soursop, a giant fruit that frequently is cut up to be sold. It runs 1,200 a kilo ($2.10) at the market. The creamy meat of the plant is eaten out of hand or juiced. The black seeds, about the size of those in a watermelon, are not eaten.

Each of these fruits can be the subject of its own monograph. But the wise shopper will try new fruits and in different ways. Some can end up in jam as well as drinks. Others can be reduced to a sweet syrup.

Some fruits have a reputation as a medicine or a cure. But that is a whole different article.


Pigs with the right genes sought
for the best tasting meat


By the University of the West of England Press Office

How can pigs be produced that provide healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat).

Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

 The project is undertaken by Duncan Marriott, a doctoral student with a amster's degree in meat science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science.

“Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry
sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality,"
Marriott explaind. "The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”



pejibaye halved
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
The first step is to half the palm nuts

Editor's favorite soup is easy
and very much Costa Rican

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Here's the lowdown on the editor's favorite soup. One serving is about a zillion calories, so Weight Watchers can tune out now.

The beauty of pejibaye soup is that it is easy to make, tastes great and is uniquely Costa Rican. The fruit have been grown here since long before Columbus.

Pejibayes are those palm nuts found in the vegetable sauna at the grocery. They range from orange to green and resemble large, bobbing acorns. When they are hot, they are easier to peel.

Purdue University in Indiana says that one average pejibaye fruit contains 1,096 calories. They are the perfect junk food: low in protein, high in fat.

Of course they're high in fat, they are the product of a palm tree. One palm tree can produce more than 140 pounds of nuts in a year. So they are far from endangered.

The biggest challenge in making pejibaye soup is in forcing yourself not to eat the peeled halves. They make a nice hor d'oeuvre topped with mayonnaise. Another challenge might be in getting someone else to peel and halve the fruit. There is a pit that must be removed. (Hey, Honey, can you give me a hand for a minute . . . . ?)

The soup is a snap. Drip a little oil in a saucepan and make tender chopped onions, garlic and maybe even jalapeños. Then drop in about a dozen pejibaye halves . Or two dozen. It really makes no difference because you can cut the soup with milk or cream to make it the consistency you desire.

Add a cup or two of water and begin breaking up the pejibaye. Or you could run the whole mixture through a blender. Add milk or cream to reach the consistency of soup. Serve hot and season to taste.

A little experimentation will show that the pejibaye mixture is perfect for a sauce over traditional foods. And they say fermented pejibaye will knock your socks off.


green mangos
A.M. Costa Rica photo     
A quick snack of green mango

Time for a sour green fruit
that's loaded with vitamin C


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Among the more underrated offerings of the Costa Rican produce markets is the green mango. Most expats know about ripe mangos and have enjoyed the drippy, juicy fruit with its unique flavor. They may also have used it in blended drinks or as a flavor for ice cream or soda.

Less respected is the green mango. This can be found prepared in the little baggies offered by street vendors. Included in the bag with the strips of mango is a bit of lemon and salt. Nice vendors also will add special ingredients, like chili, upon request.

This is street finger food. The long mango strips are bitter and an acquired taste. And that's about all the average Tico sees of green mangos.

The inhabitants of India and some Asian countries have a 4,000 to 5,000 year head start on using the fruit. Chutney,  the condiment identified with the British Empire and India, has a mango base.

Green mangos can hold their own in any taste test, and the addition of sea salt, chili, chilero or black pepper can cater to the desires of the consumer.

A real treat is a green mango salad. There are an infinite number of recipes. The basic salad contains either grated or strips of mango. From there on in, the choices are many. One version uses baked coconut and various nuts, bean sprouts and basil.

Those who want to add fire to the sour treat can create a mango-jalapeño salad, heavy on lime or lemon and pepper.

The fruit is so accommodating that a chef can hardly go wrong. The salad can become a main course with the addition of chicken or shrimp.

The mango also contains all sorts of healthful compounds, including vitamin C and fiber.

The only downside is the large seed in the middle that sometimes can be a challenge. Freestone versions of the fruit exist, but they are foreign to Costa Rica.


Chinese bottles
A.M. Costa Rica/Arron O'Dell
There's no need to read the bottle. In fact, most of us cannot, despite loosely enforced Costa Rican laws to the contrary that call for labels in Spanish. It's just time for experimentation!

Take the Chinese liquor plunge
and drink that mystery elixir


By Arron O'Dell
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

China is a country known for the Great Wall, temples, big cities, big culture, a billion people and their seeming love to eat anything.  If it grows out of the ground, walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or does any combination, the people of China have found a way to kill it, cook it, eat it and enjoy it.  However, the liquor traditions of China seldom come up in conversation.

There are more Chinese than you can shake a stick at around the globe and not one beer that is popular around the world.  This is the sort of thing not to be taken lightly. There must be a good reason for it.   Most Chinese joints here don't even sell an Asian beer and, if they do, it's almost always Thai or Japanese.  You will never here a Chinese expat say something like "Yeah, this Pilsen  is okay but you should try this beer I use to drink back home." 

What the Chinese did bring with them was liquor, high octane, burn-on-the-way-down, glorious liquor.  You haven't seen the stuff at Hipermás, any of the big mercados or your local super, because it is not there.  You cannot find it in any of the places you frequent for your standard shopping needs. 

The only way to track down Chinese liquor is to search out the small shops around town with the Chinese characters on the front.  These shops are here. You can find them.  When you fall into one of these places you hit gold because of the strange and exotic smells.  A good shop will have two or three shelves of bottles in a variety of shapes sizes with red and gold labels and writing that means nothing unless you read Mandarin.
 
My friend and I have found the best way to pick the best one is by style.  The first bottle we took home was chosen this way and still remains a favorite.  It was a short and fat bottle shaped like an oversize pineapple hand grenade with a colorful label.  When my friend saw it, he said something like 'I've got to have that bottle. It looks cool!'   He was that excited about this new elixir we had found. 

With bottle in hand we quickly made our way to the closest place to home that sold beer and yanked several six packs off the shelf and darted home at a near run.  With two open cans and empty shot glasses in front of us we stared admiring the bottle for a moment.  Then with stupid giddy expressions on our faces we poured. 

After the straight shot, we felt compelled to try it every way we could come up with until there was no more. We sipped it, drank it on ice, with soda, chased it, used it as a chaser for beer.  This tasting was was done very scientifically. 

It was very similar to Jägermeister without the bite on the front, and for 2,000 colons it was a superb deal.  Somewhere around around the bottom of the bottle it occurred to us it might be nice to have a name to put to this wonderful concoction.   We studied every character that  The People's Republic of China felt necessary to put on the ornate paper label on that fine, cheap bottle, and all of it was in some form of Chinese.  

When we inquired of the proprietor of the local Chinese restaurant, he told us that it was  an “export-only” liquor from mainland China. How fortunate for us that they chose to export this fine elixir!
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Homemade Southern Pickles.
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The plantain is a fruit that has triple flexibility in kitchen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culinary landscape of pre-conquest America lacked some of the foods taken for granted today.

There was no sugar. That was imported by Columbus on his second voyage. The delicious mango did not grow here. And the banana did not come to the Americas until the 16th century. Even the ubiquitous rice plant is a colonial import.

Despite being imported, these plants flourished here. And no Costa Rican meal is complete without rice. The plantain, called plátano, also makes up a flexible part of the diet.

The flexibility is in the use of green plantains as a starchy potato or rice substitute and the use of the mature fruit in ways to take advantage of its sweetness.

The plantain is larger than the typical table banana. Its uses differ depending on the maturity. The green plátano can be cooked like a potato, grated into flour or fried to make chips. The patacone, a double-fried disc of plantain traditionally is decorated with refried beans, mayonnaise and avocado dip.

Compared to the rest of the world, Costa Rica is fairly conservative in using the plátano. Asian cooks are far more creative.

For most, the mature, almost black-skinned plátano comes fried as one of the regulars in the luncheon casado. They are called maduros and give off their sweetness when fried in hot oil.

Nutritional content varies slightly depending on the maturity of the plantain. A green plantain, about 220 grams or about half a pound, is about 360 calories with no calories from fat. A ripe fruit is slightly less, about 340 calories. The 2 gram sugar content of the green fruit increases to about 10 grams in the mature plantain. Both are reported to be a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.

The non-fat label is a bit misleading because many of the great plantain recipes call for deep frying.

A good source of recipes is the Turbana cooperative Web site. The company features dishes for all three plátano stages.
plalntains
Typical display of green plátanos
 
Among these are plantain pancakes, mashed green plantains, fried plantains and several desserts.

Those who love patacones should know that some gourmet stores sell a press to make uniform discs. Others sell a product to fabricate a small plátano shell into which condiments can be spooned.

At home, the once-fried quarters of plantain can be pressed with the bottom of a bottle or some other hard object. They need to be reduced to about a quarter inch before deep frying again.


Chemical seen leaching from polycarbonate bottles to humans
By the Harvard School of Public Health news service

Researchers have found that persons who drink from polycarbonate bottles have a higher level of chemical bisphenol A , which is used in producing the containers.

Exposure to bisphenol A, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans.

The researchers were led by Jenny Carwile, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, and Karin B. Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology.

Researchers recruited Harvard College students for the study in April 2008. The 77 participants began the study with a seven-day washout phase in which they drank all cold beverages from stainless steel bottles as a control.

Participants provided urine samples during the washout period. They were then given two polycarbonate bottles and asked to drink all cold beverages from the bottles during the next week. Urine samples were also provided during that time.

The results showed that the participants' urinary bisphenol A concentrations increased 69 percent after drinking from the
polycarbonate bottles. The study authors noted that concentrations in the college population were similar to those reported for the U.S. general population.  Previous studies had found that bisphenol A could leach from polycarbonate bottles into their contents. This study is the first to show a corresponding increase in urinary concentrations in humans.

One of the study's strengths, the authors note, is that the students drank from the bottles in a normal setting. Additionally, the students did not wash their bottles in dishwashers nor put hot liquids in them. Heating has been shown to increase the leaching of Bisphenol A from polycarbonate.

Canada banned the use of bisphenol A in polycarbonate baby bottles in 2008 and some polycarbonate bottle manufacturers have voluntarily eliminated the chemical from their products. With increasing evidence of the potential harmful effects of Bisphenol A in humans, the authors believe further research is needed on the effect of Bisphenol A on infants and on reproductive disorders and on breast cancer in adults.

In addition to polycarbonate bottles, which are refillable and a popular container among students, campers and others and are also used as baby bottles, bisphenol A is also found in dentistry composites and sealants and in the lining of aluminum food and beverage cans. In bottles, polycarbonate can be identified by the recycling number 7.
 


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