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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 187
Jo Stuart
About us
Mike Lynch photo
Off to church
Santa Elena 

A typical Tico family from Santa Elena northwest of Monte Verde are off to church on the family vehicle. The family is unique in that the latest guest was a language student from California who recounts his battle with being tongue-tied


Airline tickets and financial transaction eyed
Da Silva and Chirac seek global anti-poverty tax
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The presidents of Brazil and France are calling for international taxes to combat poverty. The proposal was introduced at a one-day summit on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly annual debate. 

President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil convened the gathering of world leaders in an attempt to breathe new life into the global war on hunger. More than 40 other world leaders responded, many of them from the developing world. Included was Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco.

Speaking to the group, the Brazilian leader called for radical new measures to raise money to lessen poverty. 

"We are here to together turn a new page in efforts to fight hunger and poverty. Let us never forget that hunger is the cruelest of weapons of mass destruction," he said. 

President Da Silva was joined by French President Jacques Chirac in suggesting that global taxes might be necessary to finance the anti-poverty campaign. French and Brazilian diplomats say the taxes could include levies on international financial transactions, airline 

tickets, greenhouse gas emissions, and the sale of heavy weapons. 

French President Chirac told the summit that ideas once viewed as utopian or irresponsible are coming to the fore. Speaking through an interpreter, he said "a taboo is lifting." 

"We know perfectly well that at the current rate we have no chance of achieving our objectives. We have to find at least $50 billion a year between now and 2015 if we hope to respect our commitments," he said. 

The Bush administration sent Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman as its representative to the poverty summit. In her address, Secretary Veneman had harsh words for the idea of global taxes to finance anti-poverty programs. 

"There is too much emphasis on schemes such as global taxes to raise external resources," she said. "Global taxes are inherently undemocratic. Implementation is impossible." 

In an earlier address to the summit, Secretary General Kofi Annan took a neutral stand on the question of global taxes. He noted that it is easy to say something must be done to generate resources to defeat poverty and hunger. The challenge, he said, is what to do. 

Far-away fire knocks A.M. Costa Rica off the net
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fire in Baltimore, in the U.S. state of Maryland, knocked A.M. Costa Rica off the Internet for about six hours Monday.

An electrical fire in a manhole in downtown Baltimore caused most of central area to lose power, including the City Hall and a number of other buildings. Also included was the data center that houses A.M. Costa Rica’s Internet server.

The outage included e-mail servers as well as 

Web page servers, so no contact was possible through the domain for that time. The fire caused no damage to the data center, but firemen would not allow power to be turned back on to our building until it was deemed safe.

Any e-mails sent during that time have been lost.  All services were restored by early afternoon. 

Any readers who sent messages or advertising during that period, ought to resend the material.


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Child stabbed in back,
and neighbor is held

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A neighbor took a kitchen knife and stabbed a 4-year-old twice in the back while the victim was in the hallway of his own home, said police.

The stabbing took place in Loma Linda de Paso Ancho, a southern suburb, about noon Monday. The motive for the stabbing is unclear. However, the youngster, identified as Joseph Sebastián Guido Guido, was taken as an urgent case from Clinica Marcial Fallas in Desamparados to the Hospital Nacional de Niños in San José.

Fuerza Pública officers arrested a suspect a short time after the stabbing, and the knife was recovered where it had been thrown in another neighbor’s yard, they said.

The suspect is a 29-year-old man with the last name of Hildalgo, police said.

Police raid concert
and find marijuana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers confiscated 250 marijuana cigarettes and 375 grams of the weed during an eight-hour concert Saturday at the Polideportivo Monserrat in Alajuela.

More than 500 young people were surprised using marijuana, said Raúl Rivera, chief of the Unidad de Intervención Policial of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Rivera said officers had to restrain some youngsters who became violent, but only two arrests were made. One youth faces an allegation that he carried phony money, and a second youth faces an allegation of attacking an officer, Rivera said.

Police frequently visit concerts where many young people congregate with the expectation that marijuana will be present.

Revisión técnica list
now watered down 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Consejo de Transporte Público has eliminated some 123 defects that would cause a vehicle to fail the revisión técnica, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said Monday.

Among the defects that now will not jeopardize a taxi driver getting a sticker for his vehicle is a meter that runs incorrectly.

However, motorists with seatbelts that do not automatically roll up when not in use can relax. That, too, has been eliminated.

The relaxation of the vehicle inspection is part of a deal that officials made with striking truckers and taxi drivers last Aug. 31. Truckers and taxi drivers had blocked roads all over the country.

Despite the deal, Riteve S y C, the company doing the inspections, said it would not change its policies until the government took formal action. The number of inspections plummeted as drivers awaited the changes.

Ovidio Pacheco, the new minister, said that safety would not be compromised despite the changes.

Another dead woman
turns up in Desamparados

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have another suspicious death on their hands. Sunday a woman’s body was found in Higuito de San Miguel de Desamparados. The dead woman later was identified as Jeannette Monge Ureña, 41, the mother of eight.

She vanished a week ago after leaving her home to visit her parents.

Investigators are checking to see if similarities exist with the death of Yadira Espinoza Gustavino, 28, who was found in a lot in Cartago at the beginning of the month.

Tot hides under bed
and dies in house fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 3-year-old died Monday when he hid himself under his bed when his home caught fire.

The tragedy took place in Bijagual de Carara, Turrubares. The child was identified as Byron Vindas Carmona. His mother suffered burns trying to rescue him. The house was leveled.

Teen killed by lightning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 14-year-old died Sunday afternoon when he was hit by lightning in San Antonio de Santa Cruz in Turrialba. He was identified as Walter Vargas Aguilar, said the Fuerza Pública. 
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One language student's recollections
Tongue tied and twisted amongst a Tico family
By Mike Lynch
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In addition to study and total immersion, humor and humility are extremely important when learning a new language. Recently, I completed a two-week homestay with a Tico family. The homestay was offered by a Monte Verde school where I was taking Spanish language classes. 

The intention of the home stay — an additional cost on top of the classes — is to give the student a taste of Tico culture and a daily chance to test language skills. With the homestay, students are provided their own rooms and two meals a day. A native of New York State, I have lived in northern California for the last two years. I decided to enroll in the language school and participate in the homestay as a means of better understanding Latin American culture and especially to learn the Spanish language. 

In the town of Calistoga where I most recently lived, the population is at approximately 5,000. At  least 50 percent are native Spanish speakers. As a former reporter and editor of the small local newspaper in Calistoga I found it essential that I learn Spanish for future work-related opportunities. 

I was also interested in finding out what it was like to assimilate into a new culture where I didn’t speak the language, like so many recent immigrants in Calistoga and other cities throughout the United States. Several friends recommended that I participate in one of Central America’s Spanish language schools.

For those students who speak Spanish fluently, the assimilation into the Tico family can be relatively seamless. For me, the transition wasn’t so smooth. I hadn’t studied Spanish since high school 15 years ago. Needless to say, I was rusty


It was Sunday at about 4 p.m. when I jumped into the back of a taxi in downtown Santa Elena and handed the driver a slip of paper with directions to my Tico home. Soon, we were heading up the hill out of town, the truck suspension bouncing like a pogo stick on the horrendous Monte Verde roads.   When we came to a stop, I handed the driver 700 colons and stepped out to get a glimpse of my new home, the top floor in a two-story house in a residential neighborhood. Expecting my arrival, Zeila — my mama Tica — was leaning over the second floor balcony, sporting a red bandana on  her head and a large welcoming smile. 

As I walked up the stairs, we exchanged some ‘holas’ and I was led into the home, which consisted of one large main room and two bedrooms. After dumping my travel gear in my room, Zeila gestured with a bottle, offering me a mixed drink with Gauro—a local liquor made from sugar cane. 

With the drink in hand I sat own on the L-shaped couch facing the entertainment center, consisting of a large screen television, stereo and about six silver speakers.

Sitting there, we each rattled off a few simple questions about family and several other introductory questions. At one point Ziela asked a question I didn’t understand. When I was unable to respond, she grabbed the telephone and made a call. Pulling the phone away from her face, she asked in English, one word at a time, if I knew how to get to school. Someone on the other line was translating for her.  When I said I knew the location, she broke into a big smile.

During that introduction there were many long pauses and I often answered in broken Spanish with short phrases and one-word answers. Normally, I got at  least one part of the answer wrong, such as when she asked me my age. "Yo trece (13) años," this 31-year-old writer said confidently.

Zeila looked at me with a perplexed look and then tried to persuade me that  I probably had it wrong. No, I insisted. "Yo trece (13) años."

After a few assertions on my part, she gave up and we moved on with our conversation.

During this time, her 2-year-old son, Razael, who appeared confused by my presence, approached me several times. The last time he walked up to me, he dumped his tiny shoe in my drink. (Later I would learn that you have to be careful when you 

Mike Lynch photo
With remote in hand, is karaoke next?
Mike Lynch photo
Zeila, Rafael and young Razael watching television after dinner.

have a drink around Razael. One of his favorite activities is to kick your drink like a soccer ball.)

Now this situation with the little shoe in my drink was a bit awkward. The  weakness of my limited vocabulary was now more glaring. Unable to ask for a new drink and unable to read her response, I made a quick decision. I didn’t  want to appear uptight, so I grabbed the tiny shoe out from among the ice cubes. I then tossed it to the floor, took a big slug and smiled.

At about that time, it started to get a bit awkward. Soon after, the two of us were sitting on the couch watching me leaf through my dictionary looking to find words. After a few minutes, with a sort of disturbed look on her face, Zeila offered me the option of going to my room, offering me a bit of  sanctuary. I took it.

Inside my room, I unpacked and then sat on the bed, thinking about what I should do next. I felt increasing frustrated and baffled. Later that  evening, when asked if I wanted to eat dinner in the house or downtown, I choose the latter. I figured a good walk in the fresh air and a few beers  would allow me to clear my foggy and confused head.


Before leaving that evening, I did meet Zeila's husband, Rafael. Although my first introduction was brief, Rafael turned out to be friendly and humorous and, thankfully, spoke a little bit of English. 

During our conversations, I usually spoke broken Spanish and he spoke broken English. Rafael is a carpenter who enjoys the outdoors and appropriately always carries a version of a Leatherman — a multipurpose tool — on his belt.  Leatherman are common in the United States among outdoorsmen, and I  generally have one attached to my hip back in the states.

One of Rafael’s favorite activities is singing. He has countless karaoke DVDs that play music and have the corresponding words running across the  television screen. On nights when the house is full of song, Rafael can usually be found standing and singing a few feet from the television with a drink of Guaro in one hand and the remote in the other. Zeila and a few  neighbors, or tenants, usually stop in to join the fun. This activity can last several hours.

Daily routine

Generally, I only saw the family during the morning and evening hours.  Occasionally, I was joined by 2-year-old Razel when eating  breakfast, which may include fried bananas, papaya, eggs and maybe some rice and beans. Like many Costa Rican children he loves coffee and will have a cup in the morning.

After breakfast while I was waiting for the bathroom, I usually walked out the back opening — there is no door only a curtain between the outside world and dining room — to the back deck in order to kick the soccer ball with Razael. Occasionally,  he’d even squat down, point to his head, and say  "cabeza, cabeza." That meant he wanted me to toss the ball high so he could  bop the ball with his forehead.

The back deck was also a good place to go to catch a moment of peace. Often I would lean on the wall and look out over the corrugated and rusty tin roofs, to the rolling green hills, that lead out to the Gulf de Nicoya, usually  visible on cloudless days. At dinner, I usually consumed some rice and beans with some pasta or other side dish. Often Rafael arrived home at this time on his four-wheeler. 

After dinner we would enjoy a few drinks and some disjointed conversation. Humor usually was the best remedy during these failed communications. The other day there were five people standing and sitting in the living room. I  was trying to ask Zeila a question but my Spanish vocabulary was failing me. 

Overall, my Spanish did improve immensely in two weeks but it was simply one of those situations where the right words weren’t coming. So, with five pairs of eyes and ears bearing down on me and my tongue tied and twisted like the limbs of a Gringo salsa dancer, I decided to take the easy way out. After a  moment of complete silence, with eyes wide open, I stood up and very  emphatically declared, "Mi cabeza es una piña.," or "My head is a pineapple."

It was utterly ridiculous and juvenile, but the absurdity of the words in such a serious voice at that relatively tense moment caused the listeners to erupt into laughter, which gave me time to figure out what I really wanted to say. And sometimes that is all you can ask for.

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Commission urges $4 billion plan to save oceans
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An expert commission says the United States must change the way it manages its marine territories because of the continued degradation of U.S. ocean resources and coastlines. The panel has asked Congress to re-organize government agencies that deal with oceans and to ratify the 22-year-old United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty.

After more than two years of study, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy cites a dire need to protect ocean resources from exploitation and pollution.

Congress mandated the group by law in 2000, and President George Bush appointed its members.

Commission chairman James Watkins, a former U.S. Energy secretary, says coastal regions are home to half of the nation's population and generate half of its income, yet the regions are threatened by overfishing, pervasive water contamination, and loss of wildlife habitat.

"Our oceans and coast are in serious trouble," Watkins says. "We believe the nation needs a new strategy to handle these problems that have arisen. We're calling on Congress and the president to establish a new national ocean policy that balances use with sustainability, is based on sound science, and moves toward an ecosystem-based management approach."

Such an approach looks at the marine ecosystem as an interrelated whole, so that decision makers should consider the impact policies have on the entire system, not just part of it.

But the commission says to do this, there must be better coordination at all political levels. Admiral Watkins complains that ocean policy is highly fragmented at the national level, spread over 15 U.S. agencies. There is also a lack of cooperation with lower-level state agencies.

"These problems were not caused by any particular administration," Watkins says. "They are the result of three decades of piecemeal administrative and 

legislative decisions. That's why it is absolutely  vital that we act now to begin addressing them in a meaningful way."

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommends that the changes begin at the top. It calls for a special assistant to the president for oceans and a council of ocean advisers to the president. 

The panel wants the existing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration strengthened and the government's investment in ocean research doubled. The national government would coordinate policy with voluntary regional ocean councils.

To pay for these and dozens of other marine protection initiatives, the government would collect fees for use of ocean resources, such as offshore gas and oil drilling.

The oceans study panel also urges the United States to ratify the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty, adopted in 1982. The United States and some other industrial countries have avoided adopting this treaty because of disagreement with treaty provisions on deep sea drilling.

The commission's agenda is detailed, but the director of the World Wildlife Fund's Marine Conservation Program, Scott Burns, is optimistic that U.S. lawmakers and the White House will receive it positively, despite its estimated cost of $4 billion.

"The fact that this report has emerged from a bipartisan group could create an impetus for change in the administration, within the Congress, and within the various U.S. agencies that work on oceans-related issues," Burns says. "And there is reason to think based on recent history that Congress would be willing to look at some opportunities for change. It was just eight years ago that they fundamentally changed America's fisheries management law. I think there will be members of both parties who will be receptive to many of the commission's recommendations."

Oceans Commission chairman Watkins says changing the outdated U.S. oceans management scheme could sustain the country's marine resources and benefit citizens.

Latest tropical storm kills 500 in Haiti and becomes hurricane
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Officials in Haiti say the death toll from Tropical Storm Jeanne has risen to more than 500 people.

Most of the victims were in the northwestern coastal city of Gonaives, which has been devastated by flooding and mudslides.

The U.S. Embassy here in the capital says it is providing $60,000 in immediate aid to help victims' families. 

The embassy also says a U.S. Agency for  International Development team will go to Haiti this week to assess the damage and victims' families' needs.  International relief agencies are also mobilizing aid efforts. 

Interim Prime Minister Gerard LaTortue has declared three days of national mourning.

Jeanne killed at least 10 people in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico last week. The storm, now upgraded to a hurricane, has moved out to open sea and no longer poses a threat to land.

Jo Stuart
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