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These stories were published Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 192
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Young palms decorate the beach side of the sprawling complex


A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Nation takes over hotel after an 11-year fight
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials are in the process of taking over a luxury hotel near Punta Uva after a bitter, 11-year court battle. The hotel, Las Palmas, is in a protected area on the Caribbean coast.

Instead of demolishing the sprawling structure, officials will convert it to a national school of tourism.

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the minister of Ambiente y Energía, confirmed this Tuesday. His agency has been in the lead in trying to eliminate the hotel. He said that as the first step, tourists staying at the hotel were evicted Tuesday.

The fight over the hotel began in 1993. At that time the ministry canceled a use permit, but the operator of the hotel chose to go to court. He is Jan Kalina, who lived at the hotel.

The luxurious hotel is some 1,500 square meters of structures

Some 80 employees of the ministry participated with officers of the Fuerza Pública and the nation's tactical squad Tuesday, said Rodríguez. The takeover was not without a confrontation. Rodríguez said that a policewoman suffered a blow to the face and that officers had taken into custody the wife of the owner.

According to the minister, an appeals court ordered the eviction in 2004, but it took about nine months for officials to plan and execute the order. First, they asked for Kalina to leave, but he did not, the minister said.

Officials said the use permit was canceled originally due to irreversible damage to the

Welcome sign is in three languages

land, including the cutting of trees, extraction of sand and the construction of drainage systems. Such actions were inconsistent with the concession that had been granted to the hotel operating as Complejo Turìstico Punta Uva S.A., they said.

Two weeks ago when a reporter visited the hotel, a few tourists were staying there. They said they had been booked for fishing trips in the area.  The hotel complex is about three kilometers from Punta Uva. The well-manicured grounds of the hotel included extensive beach. Many improvements had been made by the hotel operator. However, Kalina was unavailable. Despite the size of the hotel, there appeared to be few employees.

Rodrguez said that the facility would be turned over to the Insituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje to be developed into a place where Costa Ricans can train for full-time jobs in hospitality.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 192


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New casinos planned
for San José, Puntarenas


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thunderbird Resorts Inc. which runs several casinos in San José and throughout Central America has announced plans to open two more — one in Puntarenas and another in San José. 

Construction of the casino in Puntarenas, which will be in the Hotel Tioga, should begin in October, said the company.  Company officials hope the casino will be ready for business by the beginning of next year.  Plans call for 100 machines and 42 table spots. 

Thunderbird has also signed a lease to put a casino at the Hotel Balmoral in downtown San José, the firm said. 

Thunderbird has focused intensely on Costa Rica since 2003, said a report.  The company likes the market stability, talented workforce and large tourism sector, it said.  Other Thunderbird casinos in San José include the Fiesta Casino Costa Rica at the Garden Court Hotel near Juan Santamaría airport, the Fiesta Casino at the Presidente Hotel and the Gran Hotel and Casino.   

Costa Rica competing
in surfing championship


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is sending a team to Huntington Beach, Calif., to compete in the 2005 Quiksilver International Surfing Association's World Junior Surfing Championship. 

The tournament, Oct 8-16, is considered the olympics of junior (under 18) surfing.  Unlike many surf competitions, this one will work on a team format.  Costa Rica will compete against teams from Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Hawaii, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Tahiti, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela for team gold, silver, bronze and copper medals. 

Costa Rica's Federacion de Surf head coach Alvaro Solano selected his final eight-person team for the event last week.  They are: Juan Carlos Naranjo from Jacó, Isaac Vega Leal from Tamarindo, Ronald Brown from Puerto Viejo, and Juan de Jesús Calderón Díaz from Jacó for the under 18 category and Nikola Rohlaw Mora from Playa Carillo, Ariel Jesús Aguerro Barboza from Quepos, Jairo Yohan Pérez Quirós from Jacó, and Derek Gutiérrez Castro from Quepos for the under 16 category. 

Coach Solano said that one factor the team will have to overcome is the cold water in California which will force the team to wear wetsuits.  Those garments – which are difficult to get used to — are hardly ever necessary here in Costa Rica. 

Prison terms given
for stealing vehicles


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men wanted for stealing cars from public parking lots, supermarkets and schools received stiff sentences from the Juzgado Penal in San José.    

The two men, identified by the last names Umaña and Nuñez, were sentenced to 20 and 10 years respectively after agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization were able to arrest them after an extensive investigation, the agency said.

The band's method was simple.  First they would fabricate a key.  Then, when the car was parked in a public lot, they would convince the lot attendant through confidence and an impeccable appearance that they were the owners of the car in question, said agents.

Agents caught the two men red-handed with a recently stolen car, they said.  The agents were then able to locate three more stolen cars.     

Insulza is frustrated
over Nicaraguan fight


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of the Organization of American States says a political crisis in Nicaragua is the "most frustrating" problem in the region.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the organization's secretary general, expressed concern Tuesday that the dispute between Nicaragua's President Enrique Bolaños and his rivals is not moving toward a resolution.

Nicaragua's opposition has accused Bolaños of campaign fraud, and is seeking reforms that would cut the president's powers. Insulza has been calling on Nicaragua's opposition to delay debate on the proposed reforms until after presidential elections next year.

Bolaños is barred under constitutional limits from seeking another term.  One of the top candidates seeking to replace him is Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, himself a former president.


Parade Sunday in Desamparados

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The faithful in Desamparados are planning to gather in San Jerónimo for a parade Sunday from the local senior-citizens home to the church that is under construction.  The procession is planning to leave at 9 a.m. and arrive at the church at 10 a.m. for a Mass to honor Saint Jerónimo.  Organizers are planning to have typical food, masked dancers, clowns and games for participants. 

Train startup will be later

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains have delayed the start of a commuter train run between Pavas and San Pedro via San José. Randall Quirós, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, said Tuesday that the train will not start this week as originally proposed but during the first few days of October.  Workers need more time to place signs and do repair work.

Former Haitian refugee in Canada
will be Queen's representative


By the A.M. Costa rica wire services

A former Haitian refugee has been sworn in as Canada's governor general, the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth. The former refugee, Michaelle Jean will be the first black and only the third woman to hold the position. At 48, she is also one of Canada's youngest governor generals. She replaces Adrienne Clarkson in the ceremonial role.

Ms. Jean immigrated to Canada's French-speaking Quebec province as a child, after her parents fled Haiti to escape dictatorial rule.
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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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Tree trunks propelled by a raging river made
a clean sweep of some residences
in Portalón.


Photos by Bob Klenz


As the damage is assessed, the rains continue to fall
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though donations have been flowing in, relief efforts are being coordinated and repairs have begun, for some towns the rain and the emergency still continue.

The flooding may have caused some $20 million in damage with many roads washed away and an estimated 375 homes damaged or destroyed. Some 1,600 persons still  were in shelters when the most recent count was taken Tuesday afternoon.

In Filadelfia in Guanacaste, it was still raining Tuesday night and people were still in shelters, though in Quepos the rain had stopped and Robbie Felix, a resident there, wrote that things were looking up.  But she estimates that up to 30 persons in or near the town of Portalón may have died in the floods and there are a few very rural communities that no one has seen yet.

“Here is the truly beautiful news.. . . . Money has started coming in to us from both Costa Rica and the States. Volunteers are showing up and the community is rallying to help us work with the emergency services commission to distribute things according to the most urgent need. We are working with them to determine who gets the most urgent help as quickly as possible,” she wrote.

President Abel Pacheco signed a decree of national emergency at the Consejo de Gobierno Tuesday. This outlined the action the government would take to contain the emergency.  Major roads including part of the Interamericana and the Costanera Sur in the country should be open again within 10 days, according to the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, Randall Quirós.

Some $50,000, in addition to the $150,000 donated by Taiwan, has been earmarked for road expenses.  The decree also said that 27 bridges are damaged and seven important ones are destroyed as well as the dike that holds back the river near Filadelfia.  Preliminary damage to all the roads is estimated at

Tree trunks and branches block this doorway
  
10 billion colons (approximately $20.6 million).

Six cantons still remain on red alert according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.  Those are Santa Cruz, Filadelfia and Nicoya in Guanacaste, Quepos in the Provincia de Puntarenas and Perez Zeledón and Buenos Aires in the Southwest of the country.  That is an improvement from Monday when the entire Pacific slope had that distinction. 

Quepos and points south in Puntarenas province sustained the bulk of the damage in the central Pacific.  By Tuesday, the emergency commission was able to reach Silencio and San Cristobal.  These towns had been isolated since the flooding started. 

In those towns as well as Portalón, relief workers distributed rations, foam mattresses, blankets and water.  In the town of San Isidro de Santa Maria de Dota, workers rescued a boy who had been bitten by a snake and attended a woman in labor, they said. 

In Portalón, authorities said that 60 homes were damaged and 18 destroyed.  


Flooding highlights environmental dispute in Nosara
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rains over the weekend, besides flooding homes in the Nicoya Pacific beach town of Nosara, also highlighted an environmental battle taking place there. 

The flooding affected 800 persons in the town and forced more than 100 from their homes in the middle of Wednesday night, said Bobbi Johnson, a resident there.  Those people huddled in a roofed woodworking shop, Ms. Johnson said.  The place was so crowded that residents had to stand throughout the night, wet and cold with no food, water or blankets, Ms. Johnson said.  When those residents returned, many found they had lost everything.  The town has no shelter, so people have been left to find shelter wherever they can, Ms. Johnson said. 

Until Tuesday, broken roads isolated the town from help.  Planes weren't able to land and it took a while for emergency food and bedding to arrive from the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.  However, the local Cruz Roja did an excellent job with what they had, Ms. Johnson said.  That organization has begun passing out donations where they are needed, and Ms. Johnson said she worked with local grocery owners to provide vouchers with which needy residents can use to buy anything except alcohol and cigarettes.  By Tuesday, a private contractor had repaired the main road and help was able to get to the residents who needed it.   

But the flooding also brought to light the leading environmental problem in the town. 

Flooding has the potential to ruin a rare turtle nesting site near the town, said Ms. Johnson.  The problem
 stems from a local gas station that sits alongside Sube y Baja creek.  The gas station, which has been ready to open since February, has not yet done so, Ms. Johnson said, and she and several other residents in the town are fighting to keep it closed.

Their concern is this: The creek the gas station sits along drains into the Río Nosara which, in turn, drains into the ocean near the Ostional national wildlife refuge, a rare turtle nesting ground.  A bloated creek could flood the gas station polluting water which would eventually drain into the refuge and destroy the nest site.

Ms. Johnson said the owners of the gas station claim that the station is out of danger from flooding from a nearby creek, but Ms. Johnson said the area has been under water before the gas station was built.  The measuring device seems to be a bridge running over the creek.  The owners claim that the bridge would never be more than one meter under water, but Ms. Johnson and associates have signatures of 200 witnesses who say they have seen the bridge under three or four meters of water.  The danger point is about three meters, she said.  That's about 10 feet.

Ms. Johnson wrote in an e-mail that the Sala IV constitutional court is still deciding whether or not the gas station will open.  The Secretaria Tecnica Nacional Ambiental has concluded that the area all around the gas station is a wetland, but it was unable to determine whether or not the actual land the gas station is on is a wetland, Ms. Johnson said. 

Ms. Johnson was careful to point out that no one in the town is opposed to the idea of a gas station, just the location which they said has the potential to do irreversible damage to a very rare environmental jewel.


Options exist for those who want to provide help for flood victims
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who wish to donate money or goods to help those evicted by floodwater over the weekend have several options.

Those not in Costa Rica should confine their donations to money because of the transportation problems involved and the ever-present bureaucracy.

The Cruz Roja is involved in disaster relief all over the country. It has three bank accounts available for donations. Banco Nacional: #100100-7 (colons), Banco de Costa Rica: #176-003-3 (colons) and Banco Popular: #5000-7 (colons)

The Cruz Roja also is accepting locally clothing, bottled water and personal articles like diapers and toilet paper.

Bob Klenz, who provided photos of the Portalón disaster on the central Pacific coast, said that the government response has been almost nonexistent in that community.  "If you could please help the people of Portalón with donations of all types of clothing, food staples, bedding supplies and any furniture you don't want, I know they would appreciate your thoughtfulness," he said.

Those who wish to do so may contact the local school
teacher, identified as Jenny, at 787-5198 or 787-5223.  They can also contact Scott and Joyce Dinsmore at 844-1600.

Robbie Felix is the Silicon Valley transplant who operates a hotel in Quepos-Manuel Antonio and also has set up a foundation for the handicapped children of the area. "Our foundation is collecting food, clothing, cash, building materials, not just for the 50 families of handicapped children that were affected, but for all the poor children who have suffered from this tragedy," she said.

"The foundation is making itself the focal point for help. We have many fine Costa Rican companies sending food, water, clothing, water treatment equipment, etc. We just got 100 wheelchairs donated by the wheelchair foundation yesterday, which helps a lot, many wheelchairs were lost in the flood and the needs are great."
 
"All I really want is that people know what we have suffered here in case by coincidence they are people who want to help. This is not a plea for your personal help, but to help me get the word out to the world about our plight here."
 
The foundation phone number is (506) 777-3336, the cell phone for Ms. Felix is (506) 838-4496. Other contact information is on the foundation's Web page.





 

Students are presenting their play about how the sun sends dangerous ultraviolet radiation to earth. This was the general theme of plays given Tuesday.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas


Schoolkids praised for efforts favoring ozone layer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three schools whose students created dramatic works aimed at preserving the Earth's ozone layer were honored Tuesday.

They are the Escuela Artola of Sardinal de Guanacaste, the Escuela de Barrio San Luis de Puntarenas and the Escuela Pastor Barquero de Llano Grande de Cartago.

The three were selected from 11 schools that participated in the contest. Tuesday was the world day for preserving the ozone layer.

In addition to plaques, the students put on their plays in the presence of President Abel Pacheco and other governmental officials after the end of the regular Tuesday press conference in Casa Presidencial.
Pacheco told the students that the biggest award for each of them and all those students who participated would be the knowledge they have gained. They can consider themselves leaders in support of human survival, he said.

Pacheco also said that his administration took firm steps in preserving the ozone layer. However, he said that one country is not sufficient and that the opportunity exists to globalize the efforts for protection of natural resources.

Each year the ozone layer diminishes over the South Pole, and some scientists say this is because certain chemicals in use in the modern world attack the ozone that makes up the layer. The layer is believed to provide protection against ultraviolet radiation from the sun.


Our readers' opinions
Chávez and the U.S. attitude toward him  continue to be a topic
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading the various letters from readers about Venezuela.  Apparently at least one reader is for all out U.S. brutality to bring Chavez "into line" while others are much more reasoned, looking at things from a very necessary historical perspective, and still others are going to go and see first hand what's up.

I couldn't help but notice that in your edition today is an article about how the U.S. has put Venezuela on its "hit list" of countries that have not done enough in the way of human trafficking. 

I noticed, however, that some countries, i.e. Ecuador, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, also on what the U.S. calls the "Tier Three" list for not complying with even minimum standards, have received President Bush's "waivers" for sanctions "in the national interest."

Could it be that that "national interest" has to do with oil and money to be made? And the fact that Venezuela was not granted the same consideration is yet another ploy, a pressure point, Bush et al. can apply against this democratically elected leader but whom Bush et al. would rather see gone?

Very hypocritical and yet so like our government.  Grant favors to those who can be profited from by those in power. 

It is not right and I, for one, very much look forward to the in-person review of the country and a report
 back as to what exactly was found as working or not working in Venezuela.

Judith Loring
Stevensville, Montana

What rule is that?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Are you inexcusably biased?  I believe not and would like to know the source of the rule cited by Mr. Stoker Brown in his recent attack on your character and integrity as a publisher.  In his letter of attack he stated:

"Remember, for every article or column A.M. Costa Rica publishes supporting CAFTA, there should be one that opposes it as well."

I am not familiar with the source of this rule of publishing.  To some degree it sounds like a wise idea and worthy of following but on the other hand journalistic bias has existed since the first newspaper article was published and most aren't going to expect or believe it will ever be any other way.
 
I thought today's "paper" was excellent overall and you should be praised for the very excellent job you do.

Joseph James Verce
Colorado


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