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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 194       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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It's like magic:
Church is reborn

About thee-quarters of the way through the job of restoring a San José church more than 100 years old, Nelson Araya Barboza took time to show reporters around Thursday. The detail is spectacular and the work is impressive. And you can visit and see for yourself.

See our story

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Things look ripe for a new El Niño in Pacific, U.N. forecast says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A weak to moderate El Niño is now likely, persisting into early next year, according to the latest United Nations forecast. The weather pattern periodically disrupts the Pacific area with consequences that can range from increased rainfall and floods in the United States and Peru to drought and brush fires in Australia.

But the UN World Meteorological Organization warned against trying to predict any possible impact at this early stage from the phenomenon, which is caused in part by a warming of the waters of the tropical Pacific and its effect on the trade winds.

“Climate patterns across the equatorial Pacific over the last one to two months have developed a notable tendency toward El Niño conditions,” the meteorological agency said in its update bulletin, although it cautioned that at this stage there is a small possibility that it might not materialize.

“However, it may be noted that El Niño conditions, once established at this time of the year, almost always persist until early the following year,” the agency added.

It called for additional caution, in view of the
 evolving situation, in forecasting the impact in those regions typically affected by El Niño, with the situation expected to become clearer in the next month or two.

It noted that although sea-surface temperatures are not yet at uniformly warm levels typical of El Niño across the whole central and eastern equatorial Pacific, conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific close to the South American coast became warm toward the end of July.

During August, oceanic and atmospheric patterns in the central and western equatorial Pacific also began to resemble conditions typical of an early stage of El Niño. In the central equatorial Pacific, surface temperatures became more than one degree Celsius warmer than normal, while at the same time there was a weakening of the trade winds.

It is very likely that sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific will in general be warmer than normal through the remainder of the year and into early 2007, the bulletin said.

“The development of a basin-wide El Niño event is considered likely based on expert interpretation of the prevailing situation and the general consistency of forecast models,” it added.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 194

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Corruption price tag here
is put at $145 million

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans paid about $145 million in bribes during the last five years in carrying out day-to-day activities, according to a Universidad de Costa Rica survey.

The survey, done by the Escuela de Matemática, is the first to put a price on corruption. The bribes represent 450,000 separate acts, according to Dr. Jorge Poltronieri Vargas, coordinator of the Proyecto de Investigación Estructuras de la Opinión Pública.

The bulk of the bribes were paid in the public sector, according to the survey. The amount paid was inferred from the results of the survey of 1,000 Costa Rican residents in 47 cantons and 93 districts of the country.

Poltronieri said that the survey results covered day-to-day corruption, such as bribes to doctors to obtain service at public clinics and hospitals. Bribes also were paid to obtain a driver's license or a passport.

Others reported paying bribes to get their vehicles through the revisión técnica mandatory inspection, to obtain pensions, to pass through customs controls, to obtain construction permits or to compete judicial procedures.

Not counted in the survey were the big bribes, those paid by contractors during the bidding process for a public job or for gifts given to get a concession.

Other types of day-to-day bribes that were counted included payments to physicians to be declared incapacitated, payments to redeem cars from the judicial depository, to avoid traffic tickets or even to get the television cable hooked up, said the professor.

Poltronieri noted that Costa Rica still has a lower incident of corruption than public opinion polls show in countries like Paraguay and Péru but said the situation is alarming nevertheless.

Public opinion also showed a contradiction. Poltronieri  said that the public thinks that the Poder Judicial, the Asamblea Legislative and the executive branch should take the lead in fighting corruption. But the public also thought that these were corrupt institutions, he said.

The professor's solution was to create a country with a culture against corruption, but he warned that private citizens are corrupt when they photocopy a book, buy a pirated CD, copy a school exam, pass through a red light or evade taxes.

The survey used a questionnaire provided by Transparency International and took place between June 3 and 12.

Port of Moín reported normal
after quick police takeover

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected, Fuerza Pública officers dressed for a riot took over the cargo port of Moín on the Caribbean early Thursday, but there was no violence.

The entry of the police ended the slowdown that tied up the port since Monday. Workers are seeking a pledge from the government not to privatize the port operations. More reaction from the union members is expected over the weekend.

Óscar Arias Sánchez made a surprise television appearance at 8 p.m. Thursday in which he said the Provincia of Limón in which the port is located is a big contradiction.

There is no region of the country better situated to integrate itself into the world economy, he said.

"However, the poverty, the unemployment and the violence continue being part of the daily life of the Limoneses. Limón is not a poor province. It is a squandered province."

Arias said that life in Limón cannot be improved if the port facilities were not improved. And he said that the port belongs to all the people not to the union dock workers.

At least in the short run the port was working normally. Dock workers who were conducting the slowdown were loading about two containers an hour before the police takeover. Government officials said that 500 containers were loaded Thursday morning and the backup of waiting trucks was cleared. One cargo ship had left port and another was about to, they said.

Police detained only one person, according to Fernando Berrocal, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He spoke in San José.

Meanwhile the union members conducted a motorcade through Limón trying to generate support. There were some strained moments between union members and San José television crews.

The port is run by the Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo de la Vertiente Atlántica. a government agency.

Casa Presidencial said the loss due to the worker slowdown was more than $1 million a day and involved many small- and medium-size producers. The principal exports are bananas, pineapples and other perishable agricultural products.

Danilo Román of Dole said that one of its ships could not load 250,000 boxes of bananas resulting in a loss to the company of $1.5 million, according to Casa Presidencial. The government lost money, too, because there is a 7 U.S. cent tax on each $6 box of bananas that is shipped.

Assassin in Playa Potrero
shoots trial witness in back

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gunman killed a Playa Potrero man in an ambush at the man's home late Wednesday.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the man, Juan Moreno Vasquez, 41, got out of his vehicle about 11:45 p.m. Wednesday and began to open the metal bars protecting his home. That's when someone began firing. They put four slugs into the man's back.

Although investigators said they had no motive, informal sources said that Moreno was a witness in a criminal case being tried in nearby Santa Cruz.

In another murder on the Nicoya Peninsula, a 28-year-old woman with the last name of Villagra died when someone stabbed her three times in the neck about 5 a.m. Thursday at her home in San Pedro de Nandayure.

Agents said a man was found nearby with an apparent self-inflicted knife wound to his own neck. He was taken to the Hospital de Nicoya.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 194

Complex exterior awaits paint

Wooden windchests will be replaced

Each post is covered with stencils

Where one bell used to be is vacant now because the wooden supports rotted.

Nelson Araya Barboza of Vasari Restauración S.A. shows off a hanging weight that is part of the church's bell system.

A.M. Costa Rica photos by Saray Ramírez Vindas

Church interior is outlined in gold

It's taking four years to restore La Merced church to glory
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A team of seven experts has spent the last three years restoring the Iglesia de la Merced, and they still have nearly a year to go.

The Iglesia de La Merced is more than 100 years old and stands above Parque de la Merced between avenidas 2 and 4.

The outside is not impressive. The exterior will not be painted until December, and the Municipalidad de San José has not started work on the grounds. But inside the church restoration is nearly complete, and it is stunning.

The four massive wooden support columns and 36 steel posts direct the eyes to the main altar and the 10 stained glass windows.

Nelson Araya Barboza is in charge of the restoration, and he proudly points out that each window contains 15 panels. Each window was removed and redone with matching imported glass, if necessary. Eight of the towering windows contain images of saints. But two behind the altar contain a 13th century scene showing the Virgen de la Merced appearing to Jaime I, king of Aragon.

This manifestation of the Virgin Mary is now the patroness of Barcelona, and the story is set in the time when Christians and Moors battled for control of Spain.

As a result of the 1218 vision, the king founded a knighthood with the goal of redeeming or ransoming Christians from Moorish slavery. The king is known as "the Conqueror" from his military exploits.

The Middle ages notwithstanding, the concept of Christian mercy embodied in the legend has a more generalized application now. And each day a few of the faithful are on
their knees among the dust of restoration seeking private counsel.

Each of the supporting posts in the nave are done in Florentine style with a multi-colored stencil, as was the original finish in the church. Araya was trained at the University of Costa Rica as as classical painter and graduated to restoration beginning with work on the Teatro Nacional.

The church interior glitters with what appears to be gold leaf. But the product used is a false gold that will last longer, Araya said. His team also replaced most of the floor tiles, making sure to be true to the original Florentine design.

On the walls, the workers have used the 4,000-year-old technique known as Venetian stucco. With coloring, plaster, elbow grease and skill they create a surface that is identical to marble.

Still to go on the interior is restoration of the 14 figures of the Stations of the Cross and reconstruction of the church's pipe organ. Araya won't tackle the organ. He said that is the job for an expert from Spain. The metal pipes are fine but termites have savaged the wooden interior windchests.

An irony is that the $1 million restoration job is being done in a church that has few parishioners, notes Araya. Barrio La Merced has changed from a mix of residences and small shops to mostly commercial. This is the area where the Alajuela bus stations are found along busy Avenida 2.

Much of the money is coming from Cervercería de Costa Rica, the beer company.

The church is open during the day for prayer and for touring.  Entry is from the south gate on Avenida 4.

From the drama to the fiesta, talk turns to the Ugly American
This past weekend the Little Theatre Group presented its latest production, “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.”  And two dear friends celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. I attended both doings. 

The only “come back” play I had heard of was “Come Back, Little Sheba,” so all of this was new to me.  The play turned out to be another gathering of southern women, but this time none is made of steel.  All of them are vulnerable in one way or another, each with her own secret.  So I can’t tell you much about the plot except that they have gathered in the local five and dime of a small Texas town to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the only event that ever almost put their town on the map: the nearby filming of “Giant” and the arrival of James Dean.  Mona, played by Dale Watson, is convinced that James Dean is the father of the son she conceived during that time.  The others are there more to support and humor her than because they are loyal Dean fans.  The comic relief of the drama is Sissy, with her wisecracking, truth-telling irrepressibility, played by Sally O’Boyle.  I would say that Sally was born Sissy, except that before coming to Costa Rica, she was a busy, talented actress in Key West.
The play is running weekends through Oct. 8.  You can call 355-1623 for reservations.

Sunday I gave up the tail end of my political shows in the morning to go to Guacima to join in the celebration of Lenny and Joan’s tenth anniversary party.  Lenny Karpman obviously had given up more than a Sunday morning to plan for it because he single-handedly prepared all of the food for over 100 guests. There were 26 different dishes for us to choose from (and some took one of everything), plus one, Lenny told me – bacon wrapped water chestnuts – that was not put out!  I can’t even go into enumerating them, but I loved the ham and the red cabbage with raisins, and some herring that I had.

 Dr. Lenny is coming out with a new book, “Noni, Baloney, Puddin’ & Pie,” which is the rather unsophisticated title for a witty, informative and exhaustive compendium of the foods and dishes of the
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

countries he and Joan have visited.  It is practically an encyclopedia of definitions of exotic foods, some with recipes, for the first time under one cover, I am sure.

Sometimes my empathy faculty kicks in too strongly.  This time I looked at all the dishes and imagined myself preparing them, and just thinking about it, I was almost as tired as Lenny had to be.

I met an American woman who, upon hearing that I had written a book, said that she would like to write one entitled, “Why Americans Hate Themselves.”  I tried to argue that they don’t.  She insisted that they do because the rest of the world hates them.  Again I argued that the world does not hate the American people, although many object to the foreign policies carried out by the current administration. 

I managed to rest up by Wednesday in order to enjoy another of our very important gatherings of the perros calientes club (we even have a secret password now).  Everything was particularly delicious this time – there are new hot dogs in the stores: Zar’s “salsicha ahumada con tocineta,”  (smoked hot dog with bacon).  It is definitely not in the health food section of the store.  But tasty!

We had a spirited discussion on the subject of whether or not North Americans are hated by the rest of the world.  The Ticas in our club insisted they are not.  They agreed – some people definitely do not like our foreign policies, but this is not a blanket animosity.

I thought about the women in “Come Back to the Five and Dime..” The disillusioned Mona, her loyal and generous friends and spunky Sissy.  They certainly represent the American people.  Why would anyone hate them?

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 194

University of California at Irving photo by Senta Niederegger     
The hairy reality of the zebra tarantula, so called because of the white lines on the legs.
Tico tarantula spins web with its legs, too, scientists find
By the University of California at Irving
communications staff

Costa Rican tarantulas have helped scientists make a breakthrough with profound implications as to why spiders began to spin silk during their evolution.

Researchers have found for the first time that tarantulas can produce silk from their feet as well as their spinnerets, something that had not been known.

Adam Summers, a University of California at Irvine assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, was among the team of scientists who made the discovery. The researchers used zebra tarantulas (Aphonopelma seemani) from Costa Rica. The team found that the tarantulas secrete silk from spigots on their legs, allowing them to better cling to surfaces. Until now, spiders were only known to spin silk from spinnerets located on their abdomen and to use the silk to form webs for protection and to capture prey rather than for locomotion.

The findings are published in the current issue of Nature.

“If we find that other spiders in addition to these tarantulas have the ability to secrete silk from their feet, this could represent a major change in our evolutionary hypothesis regarding spider silk,” Summers said. “It could mean that
silk production actually originated in the feet to increase traction, with the diversity of spinneret silk evolving later.”

The researchers placed tarantulas on a vertical glass surface. Though ground dwelling, these spiders can normally hang on to vertical surfaces by using thousands of hairs and small claws. However, the scientists noticed that when the spider started to slip down the surface, it produced silk from all four pairs of legs, allowing it to adhere to the glass for more than 20 minutes. The silk secretions were clearly visible on the glass. Using scanning electron microscopy, the scientists also were able to see the openings on the legs that resemble the silk-producing spigots on spider abdominal spinnerets.

The next step, according to Summers, is to investigate whether the silk produced by the feet is the same as that produced by the spinneret. Many spiders can produce seven different kinds of silk. Scientists will look at the genes involved in silk production from the feet, compare them to the gene family that leads to spinneret silk production, and be able to better determine whether silk was originally used for traction, or whether that was a secondary usage that came later.

The zebra tarantula is a standard offering at biological supply houses, and that is where Summers said the team got the ones in the study.

Ecuadorian front-runner takes a jab at George Bush
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The front-runner in Ecuador's presidential race has joined his leftist ally — Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez — in criticizing U.S. President George Bush.

The candidate, Rafael Correa, voiced the criticism on Ecuadorean television Wednesday. He accused the U.S. president of doing great damage to the United States and to the world.

Last week Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spoke before
 the United Nations General Assembly and referred to Bush as "the devil." His remarks drew widespread condemnation in the United States but some applause in the U.N. audience.

Correa referred to Chavez's remarks in his televised speech Wednesday but added that "to call Mr. Bush the devil is an insult to the Devil."  There was no immediate reaction from Washington.

Polls indicate that Correa will get the most votes in the Oct. 15 election for president of Ecuador, although he could face a runoff if he fails to win a majority.

Colombian president clears towns of military to prepare for hostage swap
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has agreed to withdraw troops from two towns in southern Colombia to negotiate a prisoner swap with the country's largest rebel group.

Mediator Alvaro Leyva told reporters Thursday that Uribe agreed to a proposal to withdraw from the towns of Florida and Pradera to create a meeting point for negotiations. He did not say when the withdrawal would start.

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia has
proposed exchanging more than 50 key hostages for hundreds of rebel fighters held by the Colombian government. The rebel hostages include former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. nationals.

Sunday, the rebels released video of 12 lawmakers they have been holding hostage since 2002.

Colombia has been mired in a 42-year civil war involving leftist rebels, government troops, and government-aligned paramilitaries. The conflict leaves thousands of civilians dead each year

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