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(506) 223-1327        Published  Friday, Sept. 15, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 184       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Decked out with banners and patriotic slogans, passenger cars filled with students and teachers are midway through their journey at a stop at the Estación al Pacifico.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

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On to Cartago!

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Time for the Hymno Nacional          

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Teachers as historical figures

Train is new dimension for independence celebration
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  train was a show-stopper.

A new twist to the independence eve celebration was the use of the Central Valley's new passenger service to carry a decorated trainload of youngsters and their own antorcha.

The train passengers Thursday night waited for runners carrying the torch of liberty at the pedestrian boulevard at the Museo Nacional. Teachers dressed as Costa Rican historical figures, including a bearded Juan Rafael Mora Porras, president from 1849 to 1859, were there. So, too, was the president's brother-in-law, Gen. José María Cañas Escamill (died by firing squad 1860), the strategist of the war with the filibusters.

A brass band provided the festivities for the students. They all were chosen from a handful of schools that cater to children with special needs, including deafness and mental retardation.
Nearby runners from the Colegio Sagrado Corazon waited patiently to begin their leg of the journey of the torch. The flame started Sept. 1 in Guatemala and passed through San José en route to Cartago about 6 p.m. Later President Óscar Arias Sánchez would receive the flame at a ceremony in that colonial capital.

The torch carried in a rail car with open sides was a replica, but it certainly set the mood. The students stopped earlier to sing the Hymno Nacional, and then the train continued its lumber through the downtown.

As torch bearer passed by the train, the engine lurched into action to follow as far as it could go the police motorcycles, patrol cars, fire trucks and ambulances that accompanied the runners. In the background, fireworks added punctuation to the event.

In Cartago, Arias received the torch from two Boy Scouts and two former Heredia soccer players.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 184

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One had vision problems;
the other one had no heart

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just how low can they go?  Pretty low if allegations of fraud are validated against a lawyer in Uruca.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization staged a raid on the lawyer's office Thursday morning and arrested the legal professional, who has the last name of Zamora.

Investigators in the Sección de Estafas or frauds said that the lawyer in concert with a former employee of the immigration department took advantage of a U.S. citizen with poor vision.

The victim, agents said, thought he was signing a legal paper to complete an application for residency here. Instead, the paper really was a power of attorney allowing the men to make a transfer from a U.S. bank to an account in Costa Rica for some $28,800.

Agents detained the lawyer when they made the raid Thursday and said they had encountered important evidence of the fraud.

Tuna farm idea aired
at legislative committee

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of an underwater tuna farm in southwest Costa Rica brought their arguments to the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday for a hearing of the Comisión Especial de Ambiente.

Opponents have filed a Sala IV constitutional court appeal to stop the project. They argue that the environmental studies were incomplete.

That is the same argument that Denise Echeverría of Vida Marina gave the committee Thursday.

Noah Anderson of the Asociación Protectora de Tortugas Marinas said that his group also has filed a complaint with the Tribunal Ambiental y Secretaría Técnica Ambiental of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, the environmental ministry.

A man identified as Guillermo Baltodano of Punto Bravo said that the residents of the area were never notified of the project and that publication of legal notices in the official La Gaceta was not sufficient.

A representative of the Cámera de Turismo also said that this group opposes the project. The firm Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. plans on having underwater cages of some 2 kilometers long below the ocean surface to feed captive yellowfin tuna.

Opponents argue that the tuna will generate waste and scrap food, attract predators and generally degrade the pristine Gulfo Dulce.

Committee members said they would call in government environmental workers to add more information. The committee has the option of creating legislation related to such projects.

U.S. tourists, two others
held on robbery claims

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men, including a 25-year-old tourist from the United States, face robbery allegations after two gasoline stations were held up in the Jacó area.

The men, the tourist and two Costa Ricans, 32 and 33, were arrested Wednesday at a cabina in the center of Jacó. they also face allegations that they held a taxi driver hostage for two hours, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The U.S. tourist was identified by the Fuerza Pública as Vincent Michael.

Police on patrol saw a vehicle containing three men enter a service station in Coyolar de Orotina about  4 a.m. Tuesday. Because the men left the station rapidly, the police on patrol decided to follow them. The car then entered the property of another service station, this one in La Pita de Tárcoles, and then left at high speed, said agents.

The police on patrol followed the vehicle to the center of Jacó and learned where the occupants lived. However, the police did not make any inquires at the service stations.

The next day, however, a robbery complaint was filed, and police began plans to arrest the men. Another complaint came from a pirate taxi driver who said that he had been kept in his vehicle for two hours and stripped of his cellular. The type of vehicle coincided with that used in the robberies, police said.

Police said when they raided the cabina where the men were staying they found a cellular that appeared to be the one owned by the taxi driver.

Gas prices to take dip
following world prices

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Regular gasoline is going down 15 colons to 485 a liter, and super is going down 15 colons to 513, according to the government agency that controls the prices. One U.S. dollar is worth about 517 colons at the current exchange rate.

The decrease was sought by the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo. Also being cut are the prices of jet fuel, kerosene and other petroleum products used commercially.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said the prices will become effective once the new rates are published in the official La Gaceta newspaper. The same agency announced a cut in liquid natural gas prices Wednesday. The reason is a decline n the world price of petroleum.

Architect of new Estonia
will visit Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mart Laar, the former prime minister of Estonia, will be visiting Costa Rica next week. Laar is credited with developing policies that led to the amazing economic recovery of his country after the fall of the Soviet empire 15 years ago.

Estonia has developed a stable currency, eliminated price controls and instituted a flat tax, said an announcement.

Among other groups, Laar will be speaking to the American Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce. That will be Tuesday. Monday the visitor has a date with President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

Estonia also has developed an electronic government in which many transactions are done over the Internet and paperwork is eliminated. The country has reduced the cost of government and corruption, said the announcement. Costa Rica also seeks to institute a form of electronic government.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 184

The color of houses, belly buttons and a special list
My friend Sandy had the best explanation of the sudden appearance of such colorful paint on houses.  She said that it was only about 10 years ago that a greater variety of colors appeared in the paint stores.  When she first came to Costa Rica in 1990 and wanted to paint her house in Grecia, all she could find was white and what she calls “Portuguese blue.”  That is the color that people paint on the lower part of their houses so that the mud splashed by the rain is not as visible.  (Sandy has seen the same color scheme in pictures of Portugal.).

Now we can go to another concern expressed by my friend Dos.  Why, she wonders, do all of the Ticas wear their hair so long, their necklines so low and show their belly buttons?  “It looks awful,” she says.  “I think that’s a matter of opinion,” I say.  “Well, see if you can find out,” she says.

I try to explain to Dos that a careful study of women’s styles over the years will show that what streetwalkers and ladies of the night wear one year will show up on respectable ladies sometime in the next two years.  That is why some men are befuddled as to whom they should or can approach. (The warm climate in Costa Rica might have something to do with the popularity of that fashion here.)  It would be easier on everyone involved if we did what was done in ancient Greece.  Pericles (I think it was Pericles), decreed what prostitutes should wear.  This was a diaphanous mini-toga-like affair, which he designed himself.  He also ordered them to dye their hair blond.  All of this was not to make the women more attractive, but rather so that men did not mistakenly approach and pester respectable women in public.

Of course, another reason young women wear their hair long, their necklines low and show their navels, is that they are imitating someone famous.  In this case, I would guess that it is Brittney Spears, and it now is the fashion.  This too, Dos, shall pass.

That was last week.  This week began with the anniversary of the hijacked planes’ destruction of the World Trade
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Center, the crashing into the Pentagon and downing of another plane in Pennsylvania.  In 2001 I attended a Mass
held in memoriam in the San José Cathedral.  A couple of years later I attended the inauguration of a sculpture dedicated to the memory of the people who died.  The sculpture is in the small park next to the Centro Cultural Costaricense Norteamericano in Sabana Norte.  It was renamed Parque 11 de Setiembre that day.  This year I read in the paper that there was another memorial.  I wanted to attend that and set off at 8:30 this morning to walk the 10 blocks to the park, thinking about the lives that have been changed since then (the least I could do, I figured).

When I arrived, a woman and a very large man were standing at the entrance to the park.  She asked me for my name and began looking on a sheet of paper with names on it.
“I doubt that I am on the list,” I said, not having known there was a list.

Only those invited could attend, I was told.  I told the woman that I was a columnist and she asked the name of the paper.  I told her and she looked unimpressed.  I left, disappointed, then walked back and asked, “Are you from the American Embassy?”  (From his size I knew he was.)  Both allowed as how they were. 

I headed back home thinking how things have changed.  Even though President Bush has said the world is safer, I guess you can’t be too careful, even in Costa Rica.  I would just have to be content, I decided, to go back to observing the fashions and noticing the color of the houses on my way home.  Or,  I could go shopping.

Aid flows in for Nicaraguan alcohol poisoning tragedy
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The emergency was not an earthquake or a flood. Instead, the culprit was bad bootlegged alcohol, and the U.S. military was among those called upon to provide help.

The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua confirmed that more than 45 people there died from the alcohol poisoning and hundreds more were left ill.

The victims died after drinking a toxic batch of alcohol mixed with a chemical called methanol, also known as "wood alcohol," which, when ingested, can cause blindness, organ damage and death from respiratory failure.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. military's Joint Task Force-Bravo, based in Honduras, responded. The task force said its military personnel responded to a request for help. The unit, comprising U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy personnel, conducts and supports humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations throughout Central America.

The taskforce said it had provided more than $185,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies for the medical staff at the public hospital in the Nicaraguan city of León, at the center of the epidemic. It also said it provided support personnel and a three-man medical team for the hospital in León.

A U.S. Embassy official in Managua said that vendors sold
the contaminated brew primarily to the country's poorest population because the liquor costs less than rum or beer.

Paul Trivelli, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, declared Sunday that there was a need for emergency assistance to Nicaragua to prevent further loss of life.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said that its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is providing up to $50,000 through the Pan American Health Organization to buy dialysis equipment and urgent medical necessities. 

U.S. Army Major Shawn Macleod, a family-practice physician on the medical team sent to León, said that the U.S. mission was "to go in, assess the situation at the hospital and provide any medical equipment and assistance that we could to help save the lives of those who had ingested the moonshine." 

Nicaragua's Health Minister Margarita Gurdian was quoted as saying that although Nicaragua's government had declared a state of emergency in León, "irresponsible vendors" were still selling the poisonous alcohol.  She added, "what also worries us is that people continue to drink illegal rum, even though we have told them, using the media, to stop doing so."  Minister Gurdian said Nicaraguan authorities had confiscated 47,893 liters (12,650 U.S. gallons) of the alcohol.

News reports said the alcohol poisoning was first detected Sept. 3.

New pay phones will take money and a variety of cards
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telephone company says it has begun the job of transforming the nation's 8,000 pay phones into uniform devices that accept money, phone card with an embedded chip and two other types of phone cards. The initial work has begun in Tres Rios, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Phone users have been frequently frustrated by telephones
that would not accept phone cards with chips or those that would not accept coins.

The company announcement said that 2,000 of the new phones would be set up to send text messages, a service that is now only available from cell phones.

The work will mean that some phones will be out of service, the state monopoly said. The company said that vancalism was taking it toll, too.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 184

Earliest evidence of writing yet attributed to Olmec culture
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Archaeologists have uncovered what they say is the oldest writing system by ancient people in the Americas. Experts say the hieroglyphs are not as sophisticated as those of early Egyptians and Chinese, but the writing system confirms the widespread influence of the oldest civilization in the Americas.

The civilization is that of the Olmec in what is today Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The civilization flourished between 1,100 and 1,200 B.C.

It was marked by the construction of large cities, colossal head sculptures and religious symbolism that formed the basis of civilizations throughout Mexico and northern Central America for centuries that followed.

Now, researchers have uncovered a tablet with 62 lightly etched hieroglyphs depicting everyday life of the influential Olmec.

Robert Houston is a member of an international team of archaeologists that is analyzing the stone tablet. The relic was found in the late 1990s by construction workers in a pile of rubble by the side of the road in an area known as Lomas de Tacamichapa in Mexico.

Houston calls the discovery of a new writing system a once-in-a-lifetime event, but not surprising.

"To be honest, what's surprising is that we hadn't found any evidence of literacy before because the full package of civilization seems to be there with the Olmec, and it wouldn't be shocking to anybody that they were that literate," he said.

Brown University photo and graphic
Sixty-two signs incised on a block of serpentine date to the first millennium B.C. and are thought to be the earliest writing in the New World.

The tablet, known as the Casajal block, measures 26 by 31 centimeters, and weighs almost 12 kilograms (about 26.5 pounds).

Houston says the tablet depicts images of everyday life, such as an Olmec throne, corn and possibly fish. However, interpreting the writing is going to be difficult, Houston said, because the block appears to contain a number of different texts.

"It has some icons that might refer to rulership," he said. "It does not appear, as far as we can tell, [to have] any numbers on it, which is what we would have expected, had it been an early accounting or tribute document."

Fidel Castro says that he lost 42 pounds because of his illness and surgery
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has told an Argentine newspaper he is recovering from his surgery in July and regaining the weight he lost.

In an article published Thursday, in the daily Pagina, Castro told Argentine journalist and congressman Miguel Bonasso that he lost nearly 19 kilograms after intestinal surgery, but has put back on about half of that. He said he has to take his recovery one step at a time. That's about 42 pounds.

Castro has remained in seclusion so far as the Non-Aligned Movement meets this week in Havana. But the media coverage has raised hopes that he may still make a formal  appearance before the meeting ends on Saturday.
Wednesday, Cuban state television broadcast new photographs of a thin Castro, wearing a dark robe and seated at a table as he met with Bonasso.

Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said Castro has been giving orders over the phone.

The Cuban leader's brother, Raúl, told the Communist Party newspaper, Granma, that people should not think Fidel Castro is lying back in bed.

Raul Castro says his brother is keeping up on everything that is happening.

Raúl Castro is serving as acting president while his brother recovers.

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Jo Stuart
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