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(506) 223-1327      Published Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 189       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Firemen use a snorkel to blast away at flames hiding under steel roofing.

A.M. Costa Rica photos by José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Afternoon blaze in city snarls traffic all over area
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

By fire standards a downtown blaze Thursday was modest. But the subsequent traffic jam was monumental.

Only one person, a fireman, went to the hospital as a result of the afternoon blaze in Avenida 3 between calles 1 and 3. The two-story structure involved contained a dentist office, a Chinese restaurant, a jewelry store, a clothing import business, a clothing store, an electronics workshop, and a storeroom.

Because police blocked off major streets downtown, the fragile San José area road network collapsed, and drivers from as far away as La Sabana complained that they spent two or more hours just going short distances.

The blaze was across the street from Automercado, the local supermarket. The blaze broke out in a second-floor storeroom about 1:45 p.m.

Franklin Trejos, who worked in the electronics shop,

Injured fireman

Roaring blaze

said the blaze resulted from an electrical problem. He said extinguishers could not control the spread of the flames, so he ended up calling the emergency number 911.

Orlando Barboza, administrator of the Luna Llena de Ontoño clothing import shop, said the building had a rear emergency exit.

Melvin Calderón, a fireman, said that the starting point of the blaze presumably was in the second-floor storage area where there was plenty of flammable material, including plastic, paper and cardboard.

The Cruz Roja said that 13 persons were treated at the scene, mostly for smoke inhalation. The smelly smoke covered most of San José and could be seen for miles. One of those treated was a fireman who went to Hospital Calderón Guardia for additional care.

Some 50 firemen were at the scene. Some pumper trucks sought water from hydrants  blocks away and contributed to the traffic snarl.
Firemen used snorkel trucks and their booms to get above the blaze.

Avenida 3 is a main artery, so traffic detoured  from there and the four-block area blocked off by firemen has to use alternate routes. Intersections became clogged just in time for the late afternoon traffic.

This is the second storeroom fire downtown in  about three months. Last June 8 something in a fifth-floor storeroom ignited in a building on the pedestrian boulevard at Calle 2. That alarm came in at 5:20 p.m., and traffic was tied up then, too. Two floors were gutted.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 189

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A long, deep pothole caught this Suzuki Sidekick Wednesday night in Barrio Lomas de San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados. Municipal workers fixed the road about three months ago but heavy rain undid the work.

Flooding hits Palmares,
but drier air expected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

About 100 homes in Palmares were flooded out by heavy rains Thursday, and some residents had to seek shelter.

The good news is that the Instituto Meteorológica Nacional says that the weekend will be drier, thanks to a mass of dry air over the Caribbean and stronger winds from the north.

Other flood-prone areas of the Central Valley were fighting rising streams Thursday, but the rains dwindled off about mid-evening.

Official scurries for money
to pay Limón dock workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dock workers in Limón and Moín are threatening to strike again because the government has not paid them the $1 million it promised again and again since 2005.

The executive president of Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica talked to other officials about legal ways to raise the money.

Government officials were expecting big exporters to ship and raise the money.  The reached the latest accord with dockworker unions Aug. 9. But, according to Wálter Robinson, the executive president, the money never came through.

Shippers had been asked in the past to ante up money for the dock workers.

Robinson said he met with Roccio Aguilar, the contraloria de la República, and Fernando Herrero, the  regulador general, seeking some legal way to pay the debt.

Robinson also met with Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia.

The situation is important because the docks of Limón and Moín handle much of the country's exports, including bananas, fresh fruit and other produce.

The money was promised to the dock workers by the Pacheco administration as part of the settlement to keep workers on the job.

Housing scandal erupts
involving Cartago project

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A scandal has surfaced involving a 480-unit public housing project in Oreamuno de Cartago. Judicial Investigating Organization agents staged four raids Thursday. Searched was the municipality, Banco Promerica in San José and two other San José locations.

The investigation involved a 3.1 billion ($6 million) colon financing package from the state-operated  Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda set up during the Pacheco administration.

There are complaints that the land and construction was way overpriced and that dead people and others who were not qualified are listed as the recipients of the housing, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Our reader's opinion

He just doesn't  like
Blackwater  'profiteers'

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Kudos to Mr. J. B. Call and his fellow defense contractors based in Honduras. Their humanitarian work in Nicaragua was indubitably well done and much appreciated.
That said, damn the mercenaries with Blackwater, et al. And the war profiteers that employ them (Isn’t that treasonous anymore? I guess not when oil men are in charge of our government).
Aside from the fact that the war in Iraq is based on a deceptive premise: (where did they find those weapons of mass destruction again?),
Irrational: (good thing we’re there instead of having sufficient forces to deal with the real threats offered by North Korea and Iran. We can’t “cut and run” because avoiding more America deaths would dishonor those who have already died?!?)
Delusional: (Isn’t that democracy doing great? And gosh, maybe we can be the first invading forces in history to win a guerrilla war! If not, maybe we can just watch the civil war from the green zone!)
The sociopathic killers (er, civilian contractors) with Blackwater are reportedly offered as much as $1,000 a day for former special-operations personnel to provide “private security,” compared with about $150 a day that the Pentagon pays a Green Beret with 20 years of experience.
Is that really how we can best support our troops?!?
Jim Shapiro
Carlsbad, Calif.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 189

Place your bets on the wheel or on the unknown restaurant
There have been some requests that I write about the new roulette wheel at the Club Colonial, the casino on First Avenue.  So I ventured out to try to understand it.
The Colonial, next to the Del Rey, is probably one of the most popular casinos in the city.  It has some of the best bocas in town and offers free dinners (buffet style) to players on Fridays and special holidays. It is undergoing some major interior construction, but for roulette players the electronic roulette wheel is the most interesting addition.

Players sit at a large octagonal table in front of their individual boards — miniature roulette layouts.  In the center of the table is the recessed wheel. Once you insert your 5,000-colon note (a bit less than $10 and the highest denomination it will take), you can place your bets, but only when it says, “Ponga sus apuestas,” and the creeping timer begins making its way across the bottom of your board.  It will give you about 30 seconds to push the numbers you wish to bet.  The numbers are in front of you and are not easy to push.

When the ball drops the winning number appears under the miniature board in front of you, which is helpful since it is difficult to see it on the wheel. One of the keys on the left allows you to bet two fichas per number (Each ficha is worth 100 colons or about 19 cents.)  Another allows you to repeat your bets from the last play.  This is a good idea because I found this roulette to be more stressful than any of the human run-games.

Casinos are popular here with both tourists and locals.  Recently, with friends, I went to a restaurant that seems not to have caught on with either as yet.  We were a group of long-time expats who seldom go to “tourist places” so we left the Cariari where we had had a meeting and headed for a restaurant called “La Cocina de Lena.”  This is a popular concept here — meats roasted over wood fires.  Lately I had been hungry for wood-roasted chicken so it sounded like a good idea to me.

There was an old fashioned iron stove in view when we arrived, but I saw no spit turning as it browned whole
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

chickens.  The menu, which was on brown paper bags, did not feature chicken a la leña either.  We asked the waiter and were told that there was nothing cooked with wood — that was just the name of the restaurant.

We laughed at this lack of honesty in advertising but stopped our chuckling when we saw the menus. I didn’t write down the prices because I held back a menu to take home with me but the waiter said he would give me a newer one.  When I got home, I discovered the new one had no prices.  (I would not make a good investigative reporter.) 

I recall now that most of the prices were mind-boggling to us, like frijoles, a side dish at 1,800 colons (about $3.48).  There were some unusual dishes on the menu, like ox tail (served with yuca and plantain) and tripe.  For the most part, the dishes were “tipical” Costa Rican. 

I ordered stewed tongue (with tomato sauce). It arrived smothered in sauce and covered with overly cooked vegetables. Tongue, I discovered, tastes just like you would expect tongue to taste.  Another diner ordered estufada.  She seemed to enjoy it, although the fried egg was the most fried egg I had ever seen.  All of the main dishes were at least 4,500 colons (about $8.65); beef and seafood dishes were much higher.  With drinks, our meals averaged out to 6,000 per person (about $11.50).

So there you have it.  You can have a bit of stressful fun and let a machine eat your 5,000 colones.  Or you can eat and let the restaurant take your money.  I’ll probably go back to the roulette wheel before I go back to that restaurant.  At least there is the chance of winning.  But I’ve just had a more charitable thought:  maybe the restaurant was just built of wood. 

Taxi fares shaved a bit because of bureaucratic oversight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the complex world of Costa Rican governance, a failure to hold a public meeting resulted in a reduction of taxi fares.

The culprit was the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos. A recent Sala IV constitutional court decision voided that latest increase in taxi fares.

The increase that figured in the decision was the second step of an increase put through in the last administration. There had been hearings for the overall plan.

Still, Fernando Herrero, the regulador general. said that hearings are a sham because the average citizen does not
 really particpate. He said efforts would be made to change that.

The next audience is being called soon at the request of the Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Taxi R. L., taxi drivers, who want an increase.

Until then the first kilometer in an urban taxi will be 330 colons instead of 350, and additional kilometers will be 300 instead of 320. Taxis in rural areas have slightly different scales. 20 colons represents about 4 U.S. cents.

Also Friday, the regulating agency authorized a reduction in diesel fuel from 364 colons a liter to 342, about a 6 percent drop. The decrease reflects the world price of petroleum. Liquid natural gas and aviation fuel dropped, too.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 189

Even Democrats are irked by Bush barbs by Hugo Chávez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Remarks by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, who hurled insults at President George Bush, brought a response Thursday from congressional Democrats. Two key lawmakers said they resented the Venezuelan leader's behavior on American soil.

When U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel calls a news conference, it's usually to criticize President Bush and others in his administration on everything from domestic economic and social issues, to Iraq.

But the veteran New York lawmaker paused before addressing reporters to watch a U.S. television network broadcast live remarks by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez in Harlem, the district in New York City that Rangel represents.

The Venezuelan leader antagonized many Americans when he used his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York to hurl insults at President Bush, who he called the devil.

Chávez continued his verbal tirades Thursday, using an appearance at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Harlem to call Bush, in the Venezuelan leader's words, "an alcoholic and a sick man."

Rangel said the Venezuelan president should understand that however critical of President Bush he and other Democrats are, nothing justifies the kind of personal attacks made this week:

"He has to understand that while we have problems politically sometimes with President Bush, that he is still
our president and that we resent foreigners coming and condemning our president, whether it is at the United Nations or whether it is in my congressional district," said Rangel.

Earlier, the Democratic leader in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, had this angry reaction to the Venezuelan president:

"Hugo Chavez abused the privilege that he had speaking at the U.N," said Ms. Pelosi. "In doing so, in the manner which he characterized the president, he demeaned himself and he demeaned Venezuela. Hugo Chávez fancies himself as a modern day Simon Bolivar, but all he is . . .  an everyday thug."

The interesting defenses of the president come as congressional Democrats are otherwise ramping up criticisms of Bush on foreign and domestic policy issues just a few weeks before November mid-term legislative elections.

Republican congressional leaders offered no similar high profile responses to Chávez. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, dismissed the Chávez remarks saying they didn't warrant a response.

The Venezuelan president coupled his new insult of Bush with the announcement that Venezuela will double the amount of discounted heating oil shipped to the United States to assist low-income Americans in the winter.

Chávez has described the heating oil program as a way to help poor Americans neglected by the U.S. government.
U.S. officials say it is politically-motivated and aimed at trying to burnish Chavez' image with Americans and help boost his credibility at home.

Tuna firm spokesman defends project as taking advantage of nation's potential
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A representative of the firm that wants to put a tuna farm underwater in southwestern Costa Rica said Thursday that the country should take advantage of its undersea resources.

The representative is Eduardo Velarde Silva, and he spoke to the Asamblea Legislativa's Comisión Especial de Ambiente. China has 174,000 square kilometers of territorial waters and it is the No. 1 aquaculture producer, he said, noting that Costa Rica has 600,000 square kilometers and great potential.

The commission heard a series of environmentalists speak
 against the project last week. As news of the project by Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. spread, a firestorm erupted among tourism officials and nature lovers.

The project would put two-kilometer long cages beneath the sea to raise yellow fin tuna.

Opponents say the project will litter the Golfo Dulce with dead sardines used to feed the tuna and cause a host of other problems.

Velarde said that the project would be run in an environmentally conscious manner and that if the ocean were degraded, so would be the tuna business.

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Jo Stuart
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