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These stories were published Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 188
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The bus
stops here

Even a rugged bus sometimes is defeated by rainy season roads.

This sinking feeling took place Wednesday morning at Avenida 7 and Calle 3 in north San José.


A.M. Costa Rica/Garland M. Baker



Nation's image gets a big boost from TV show
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica and living in Costa Rica got some great publicity Wednesday night.

House Hunters, a program on HGTV, the cable channel, focused on Tamarindo Wednesday evening as a former Atlanta resident searched in the booming real estate market for new digs.

The show followed Mimi Bean, a cookbook writer and former owner of the La Taverna bar in Escazú, as real estate broker Karen Ebanks showed her three homes in Tamarindo.

The homes, between $325,000 and $425,000 may have seemed a little pricey for Costa Rica, but according to Ms. Bean, that's normal in the town.  Prices for homes there are on par with those in the United States, Ms. Bean said.  Some cost millions of dollars she said.

Tamarindo, on the far Pacific coast, once was a quiet fishing village but it's popularity with surfers and ecotourists has driven real estate prices much higher than those in the rest of the country. As a result of this popularity with North Americans, construction seems to be happening non-stop and the town has even acquired a Burger King fast-food outlet during the last year.

The three homes featured in the program all had amenities that appear in the United States but are generally lacking in Costa Rica like vaulted ceilings, bathtubs and extra bed and bathrooms.  Ms. Bean eventually settled on a one-story home that had a pool and a large outdoor entertainment area but lacked the gas stove she was hoping to find.      

Karen Ebanks photo
Karen Ebanks, right, and Mimi Bean pose with three technicians who put together the television show.

Ms. Bean's search ended up on House Hunters as a combination of coincidence and luck.  Ms. Ebanks, her real estate agent, responded to an E-mail from the program.  When she approached Ms. Bean about having the program document her hunt, Ms. Bean agreed.  She filled out a questionnaire and then had to submit a videotape before the show selected her.  As a result of her participation, she even got a bonus check from the program though she wasn't expecting it, she said. 

She said that after three months, she loves her new house.  The program showed her surfing, learning pottery and riding horses on the beach in addition to working on her book. 

“All my friends said I was crazy for moving here,” Ms. Bean said.  “But Karen has protected me.  It's been great.  Costa Rica is beautiful.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 188


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Imperial getting more
of U.S. beer market


By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Since its release in California a little over a year ago, Cerveza Imperial has been a hit there, said Gabriel Carboni, a spokesman with Florida Bebidas, the beer's distributor.  So much so that the distributor expanded to Florida in March and Monday, New Jersey residents will also be able to buy Imperial, Carboni said.
 
The  company sold 20,000 cases in its first year and is anticipating 50,000 for this year, Carboni said.  August was the brand's best selling month since sales in the United States started, said Carboni.  Stateside consumers bought 1,700 cases, Carboni said.  And while that number is still minuscule compared to well-established American breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Coors, it's still a phenomenal number for a beer that has only flowed in the United States for a year, Carboni said. 

Florida Bebidas originally picked California because such a high number of residents from that state come to Costa Rica.  Carboni said that currently Imperial is only available in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties but by January, the company will expand to Los Angeles and Orange counties as well. 

Carboni added that the primary market has been Americans who have been to Costa Rica, but to target Ticos living in the United States, the company had to expand.  California is not known for its Costa Rican community but New Jersey and Florida are.  

Florida Bebidas also plans on adding New York in a couple of months and Texas in January, Carboni said.  Once buyers from the distributor in those five states are mostly repeaters, Pilsen will come to the United States as well, Carboni said.  He estimated that U.S. consumers will see Pilsens in their bars within a year and a half.   

Resistant corn seeds
readied for next July


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Researchers with the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería hope to have a new disease-resistant variety of corn available to the public by July 2006, the ministry announced.

Researchers from a variety of institutions said that despite three years of work on the hybrid strain, they still have some details to iron out before farmers can plant it. 

“The idea is that this new variety will adapt to the climate of Pejibaye de Pérez Zeledón and the northern region of the country.  To be accepted, the strain needs to be uniform, with a good color, adequate height, late maturing, and capable of a strong yield and tolerance to some of the principal illnesses,” said William Meléndez Gamboa, subdirector of the ministry in the Brunca region.  He added that 10 years has passed since the last time the agency developed a new variety of corn.

In Costa Rica, the “good color,” is white.  Panamanians prefer yellow, the ministry said.  The primary growing regions are in the south, Pejibaye, Colinas, Pilas, Buenos Aires and Laurel.  Guanacaste, Los Chiles, Guápiles and Cariari are also major corn production regions, the ministry said.
 
In 2004, farmers produced 12,649 tons of corn, the ministry said. 

Besides the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, the Instituto Nacional de Innovación y Transferencia en Tecnología Agropecuaria and the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo also are working on the project.

Resistance documented
for influenza strains


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new U.S. study published in the journal "The Lancet" says worldwide resistance to drugs to treat influenza is increasing.  The finding could be bad news amid fears of a possible global flu pandemic.

Drugs known as adamantanes have been used for the past 30 years to treat influenza.  Over time, and with repeated use, the drugs have become less effective in fighting flu viruses.

In the largest study looking at resistance to two drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., found that resistance among circulating flu virus strains increased from 0.4 percent between 1994 and 1995 to just over 12 percent between 2003 and 2004.

Investigators analyzed gene mutation among 7,000 influenza A strains, and found that 60 percent of the resistant strains isolated since 2003 came from Asia. In some Asian countries, 70 percent of the isolates contained mutations that made them resistant to adamantanes.

Currently, there is concern about a particularly lethal strain of avian flu, known as H5N1, that has been transmitted to a small number of humans from infected birds.  Public health officials worry that the virus, which has resulted in some deaths, could cause a global pandemic. But so far, experts say avian flu does not appear to be easily transmitted from person to person.

Spokesman Tom Skinner of the Centers for Disease Control says luckily, new anti-viral drugs have come along to treat influenza.

Web pages honored

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Web page of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad took first place, and the Web page of the cultural ministry took second place in a national contest of Internet pages.

The ministry, the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, announced the results Wednesday. Both Web sites will represent Costa Rica in an international contest of Spanish-language pages.

The contest drew more than 100 entries, including some of the country's best known Web sites, the ministry said. The ministry site only went into operation in February.

Continued house arrest sought

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The anticorruption prosecutor has asked for five more months of house arrest for former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, who is being investigated as part of the Fischel-Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social scandal, according to the press office of the Poder Judicial.

The application was made Wednesday morning to the Juzgado Penal del II Circuito Judicial de San José. Lawyers for Calderón are likely to oppose the request, and a judge will have to make the final decision.
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.

Real estate agents and services

MARGARET SOHN
formerly with  Carico and now with Great Estates
15 years Costa Rican
real estate experience

Member of the Costa Rican Real Estate Association, Lic. #1000

Member of
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Chamber of Commerce

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samargo@racsa.co.cr
www.realtorcostarica.com
(506) 291-2825 & (506) 291-2826
fax (506) 296-6304   (506) 382-7399 cell
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643-3356
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Dentists

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902-9/14/05

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Authorized Representative
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229-8/9/0



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Trash roundup
in Playa Hermosa

More than 100 residents of Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste took to the beach Saturday and collected trash and garbage, even some that was under water.

Nearly 30 local businesses supported the effort that ended with a hot dog roast and raffle.

The money collected from the raffle and donations go to the Playa Hermosa Beach Association to help keep the area beautiful, said Kelley Mae Gibbs, who is associated with Diving Safaris there.


Photo courtesy of Diving Safaris



An analysis of the news
Report on free trade pact was a real crowd pleaser
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In true Costa Rican fashion, the report submitted Tuesday by five citizens on the proposed free trade treaty made nearly everyone happy.

The report got submitted, which made treaty proponents happy.

The report did not contain a strong recommendation for approval of the agreement with the United States. That made opponents happy.

And the report contains a backhanded endorsement of the proposed new tax plan, and that made President Abel Pacheco happy.

Spanish-language news media that favor the treaty were quick to announce that Pacheco said he would send the treaty to the Asamblea Legislative for study and a vote. That made them happy.

But Pacheco never said when he would do that, noting
only that it is his duty as president to do so. That made opponents happy again.

The treaty report came from a commission of five headed by Costa Rican-born U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz. By heading the committee he gained a reputation as being more than just a spaceman. So he is happy.

The report spoke in abstract terms about fundamental changes being needed in the Costa Rican infrastructure. That made everyone happy including  the bitter opponents in the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, which has been agitating for the "new Costa Rica."

It is the nature of those changes that might make some unhappy. By speaking abstractly about foreign investment, more employment, better education, efficient production and access to technology, the report generally avoids concrete details.

And that continues to keep everyone happy.






Popularity of Chávez slips a bit, latest poll shows
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — For the first time in nearly two years, public opinion polls in Venezuela are showing backing for President Hugo Chávez dipping below 50 percent.   But the country's opposition is splintered, disorganized and disengaged.  With presidential elections slated for next year, it remains to be seen whether the populist, self-proclaimed socialist leader will face a real test at the ballot box.

The political fortunes of President Chávez have swung wildly in recent years.  In 2002, he was briefly removed from power in a failed coup.  Months later, his approval rating sank to 30 percent during a national strike.

But he came roaring back to crush a recall referendum last year, with official tallies showing nearly 60 percent voting to keep him in office.  As recently as May of this year, his approval rating stood at 70 percent, buoyed by soaring oil revenues and massive expenditures on social programs.

But a poll released earlier this month showed backing for Chávez at 47 percent.  One opposition leader who is contemplating a presidential bid next year, Caracas newspaper publisher Teodoro Petkoff, says a gap is emerging between the public's expectations and Chávez' ability to meet them, regardless of how much oil money flows into the country.

"Increasingly, demands are being heard from his own political base, demands for results," he said.  "This is an indication that too many promises have not been kept.  And while Chávez' message remains popular, satisfaction with his programs is waning."

But Alfredo Keller, who heads the Caracas firm that conducted the survey, says one should not read too much into the recent data showing Chávez-backers slipping below the 50-percent mark.

"One could therefore conclude that the opposition is now in the majority," said  Keller.  "That is not necessarily so, because those who do not back the government do not necessarily back the political opposition.  Venezuela is divided into three blocks: those who support the government, those who oppose it and those who want nothing to do with the government or the opposition."
The high point of the opposition's influence came in late 2002, when it launched a national strike that ground the country to a halt for several months.  Yet President Chávez refused to give in to opposition demands that he resign, and the strike eventually crumbled.  After a year of legal battles, the opposition did manage to secure a recall referendum in 2004.

But Ricardo Sucre Heredia, a political science professor who teaches at Venezuela's Universidad Central, says the opposition had no message other than to continue railing against the president.

"Why did the opposition lose the referendum?  Because it was incapable of telling people what its program would be," he explained.  "People said, 'I will stick with President Chávez because at least I know what he will do.'  People will not support an opposition that does not convey confidence, security, or an idea where the country should be taken."

The allies of President Chávez control the legislature, the judiciary, and many local governments.  Professor Sucre Heredia says such a concentration of power can only lead to abuses.

"The country is facing the terrible possibility of [Chávez' political] hegemony, of an authoritarian democracy, of the elimination of liberty, of copying the Cuban model — in short, the terrible possibility of a government that does whatever it wants, as it is doing right now," he added.

But President Chávez recently dismissed such concerns in an appearance on state-run television, noting that he was democratically elected nearly seven years ago, that his continued governance was confirmed in 2004, and that the people will have their say once again in presidential elections next year.

"Our proposal is a democracy that is not only representative, but also participatory.  And a democracy that advances fundamental human rights," said Chávez.

As for next year's elections, no one is counting out the opposition.  But even among observers who would like to see a change in government, many wonder whether the opposition will be able to field a candidate with the stature and the resources to forge a campaign that truly challenges the incumbent.

 
Our reader's opinion
A comparison between Hugo Chavez and George Bush
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read with interest your analysis of Hugo Chavez’s presidency. How about one of George W. Bush? I can get you started. When he came into office, the U.S. had a positive cash flow and a generally positive image in the world. Now we are deeply in debt and looking at more debt. We are mired in an expensive war (in both human and monetary terms).  A war in which we attacked a sovereign nation on trumped-up charges and which many believe has had the effect of encouraging terrorists, rather than discouraging them. Poverty in the U.S. has grown by leaps and bounds and more of our people are without health insurance.

Incompetent and corrupt Bush cronies are in charge of critical posts like Federal Emergency Management and Medicare procurement and billions of dollars in no-bid contracts are being awarded to huge corporations while workers are being denied a fair wage.
Ten thousand Cuban doctors might be a good start towards helping out Americans who are without health insurance!

I notice your paper ran an article critical of Castro for his jailing of a dissident journalists, but you haven’t said anything about the hundreds of people being held without charges and without access to lawyers on Cuban soil at Guantanamo by the “great bringer of democracy.” I often wonder what Cubans think about that!

I notice your article calls Chavez a “self-avowed” socialist. What exactly is that supposed to mean?  Why not just call him a socialist? At least in my vocabulary, it’s not a dirty word. I don’t know what George W. Bush calls himself, but I would start with PHONY!! So in that vein, I’ll tell him what he told his pal at FEMA “You’re doing a heckuva job, Georgie!”
Leslee McCarty
Hillsboro, W.Va.


Economic efforts prompt U.S. concerns
Ultimate strategy by China in Latin America is unclear

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China is expanding its economic and political ties with Latin America, a region traditionally viewed as being within the sphere of influence of the United States. Some analysts say the Chinese move is accelerating as Washington becomes more preoccupied with other parts of the world, particularly in conducting the war on terrorism and Iraq.

Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Mexico earlier this month, where he met with his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, and members of Mexico's senate. The two leaders signed several agreements to boost trade between their countries, and they also agreed to set up the framework for negotiations to allow Chinese companies to eventually mine iron and other minerals in Mexico.

Trade between China and Mexico totals some $15 billion, though most of it consists of Mexican imports of Chinese products.

Hu's visit came less than a year after he made a widely publicized swing through Latin America, stopping in several countries including Argentina and Brazil. These visits appear to be part of a broader effort by China to secure future sources of oil, iron ore, timber and other commodities from Latin America and to establish closer political ties.

Michael Shifter, a Latin American expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, says China's initiative toward the hemisphere is part of a wider global strategy.

"I think they are finding opportunities here and those opportunities are opportunities that the United States isn't taking advantage of. There is a sense that the United States has looked elsewhere and hasn't really put the energy and effort into taking advantage of the economic opportunities in this hemisphere. I think China has discovered that there may be some interesting ways they can take advantage of them, so I think that's happening but I think this is part of their global strategy as a major power," he said.

Brazil has been especially eager to promote a closer relationship with China, seeing the Asian powerhouse as a promising new business partner. During last year's visit by Hu, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva predicted trade with China would more than double to $20 billion in three years. There were also expectations China would invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

However, Brazilian economists say these investments have yet to materialize and that Brazil finds itself at a disadvantage because it mainly exports raw materials to China in exchange for finished products. While Brazil still has a trade surplus with China, 60 percent of its exports are primary goods like soybeans and
iron while imports from China consist of electronics, machinery and other manufactured goods.

U.S. officials point to this imbalance as they play down any notion that China could someday supplant the United States as Latin America's main economic partner. They note, for example, that U.S. investment in the region is $300 billion, compared to China's eight billion. They also point to the recent signing of the free trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic as evidence of the Bush administration's strong continuing interest in Latin America.

Yet there are some concerns. Roger Noriega, who until last week was the State Department's assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, said Washington does not want to see China establish security ties with certain countries.

"If there's intelligence cooperation, or an effort to build security relationships, military-to-military relationships, in a way that would be detrimental to our security or the interests of our neighbors in the Americas, that would be a concern for us. We don't see that as a major problem but it's something that we have to pay close attention to," he said.

Noriega named Cuba and Venezuela as countries which the Bush administration does not want to see establish security ties with Beijing.

China's growing role in the region prompted the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold hearings on the issue this week, during which some lawmakers wondered if Beijing poses a threat to U.S. influence in Latin America.

While China may not pose a threat to U.S. interests in the region, its ultimate aims in Latin America remain unclear, according to Michael Shifter.

"I think what ultimately China's strategic role is going to be is still unclear, whether it's going to be sustainable is unclear, I think it has raised expectations and fed a lot of speculation about what will happen but I don't think anyone has a clear notion of the importance of China: whether it will be political, or economic, but clearly they are an important actor that is new and I think it could force Washington to pay a little more attention to the region. Maybe that would be a good thing because I think there is this traditional notion of seeing Latin America as the backyard of the United States and taking it for granted, and I think that does not correspond to the new realities in the world. And one of those new realities is the significant role of China," he said.

What is clear is that China is likely to play an increasingly important role in Latin America as nations in the hemisphere look beyond their traditional partner, the United States.


Commerce secretary praises economic integration
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Within the Western Hemisphere, liberalized trading systems have provided substantial benefits to the countries that embraced them, and greater benefits almost certainly will follow with the elimination of remaining trade barriers, said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez.

In remarks this week at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce conference on Latin America and the Caribbean, Gutiérrez extolled the advantages of economic integration while also praising countries throughout the Americas for assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the United States' Gulf Coast region of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama at the end of August.
"We are grateful for the outpouring of compassion from our friends in the Western Hemisphere," said Gutiérrez.  "Hurricane Katrina dramatically shows how integrated our nations and our economies are.  New Orleans and other Gulf ports are key gateways to the global economy."

In fact, "Hurricane Katrina underscores the importance of providing the highest common level of protection from man-made or natural threats," he added.  And because they recognize their mutual dependence, countries such as Canada, Mexico and the United States already are "working together . . . and to improve our respective security," said Gutiérrez.

Costa Rican businessman James Fendell, president of Aerocasillas, introduced the secretary.

 
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