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These stories were published Friday, Oct. 1, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 195
Jo Stuart
About us
Cop smashes motorcycle to nab robbery suspects downtown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A police officer used his patrol car to ram a motorcycle to thwart the escape of three robbery suspects in downtown San José Thursday afternoon.

A fourth suspect was caught on foot in what police said was a strong blow to a gang of robbers who preyed on downtown businesses.

The drama played out in Barrio Lujan near the former Dos Pinos compound just a few blocks south of the court complex. Four masked men stuck up a real estate office, waved guns in the faces of employees there and took the cash that was collected as property rents.

When the robbers tried to flee, they found theirway blocked by police. The Fuerza Pública did not say how they knew a robbery was in progress, but there is a high probability that the four men were under surveillance. 

The four are suspects in a number of downtown heists, including some at luxury condominiums.

After the police car knocked over the motorcycle and the fourth suspect was in handcuffs, police said they recovered 600,000 colons, some  $1,340 in cash. 

The suspects were identified by the last names of Brenes Cecliano, Solano Serrano and Ramírez Badilla. Police said the men had arrest records.

Some old folks have it better than others
This week I went for my periodic checkup with the cardiologist. I don’t call him "my" cardiologist because he is low on the list of doctors I really like. I have great difficulty in understanding his Spanish, which he delivers in a mumbled bark. 

He is just as frustrated with me, I am sure, when he sees me still sitting in front of him after he has told me to lie down on the examining couch and then has to use sign language to get me to move. I respond by laughing while I obey. (I am giggling at my own denseness. Just what else did I think he was saying?) 

I pass with flying colors, I guess. Even my blood pressure is "very good." The last time I was here it was very high, because, I later decided, I was furious at having to wait two hours to see him and had run out of reading material. This time I came well equipped with a fatter book and a resolve not to get upset waiting. This time, too, there was something that was distracting enough to make me forget the wait. 

In the pew in front of me was a very old woman, so old it was difficult to tell her race. Her face was leathery and covered with black moles; she was toothless and wattled. She brought to mind some words in Lee Brady’s play, "What about Ben?" when Corlynn says she sees an old woman sitting alone in the parking lot of the co-op, "ancient, toothless, sexless, mumbling…." 

The woman in the waiting room would never find herself alone in a parking lot. Next to her was a well-dressed man in his 60s being most solicitous of her. She pretty much ignored what he was saying because she was totally absorbed in the doll she was holding. It was a very large baby doll, a beautiful, realistic doll about the size of an 8-month-old baby. The doll was completely dressed and covered with a warm shawl and a knitted cap like the one the old woman was wearing. 

The woman was carefully pulling the hat down over the baby’s ear. The man (who I figured was her son) was oblivious to those of us who were watching the two of them. I was trying to imagine the story behind this scene. Others, who had walked over to look and smile, had their own thoughts. We all were struck by the size and beauty of the doll. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

I thought about how Alzheimer’s, both the word and the illness, have replaced "senility" and "second childhood," which are words we used to use for old people who had drifted into another world. This woman, I decided, had definitely entered her second childhood and was being well cared for. And loved by her son. 

My speculation was cut short by my name being called, and when I exited the doctor’s office, the man was alone. His "mother" had gone into the room where they did electrocardiograms. She obviously had taken her doll with her. I had to leave before she came out. 

There are a number of "Hogares Para Ancianos" (Old People’s Homes) in and around San José. I have heard nothing but good reports about them, and the loving care they give their residents. But there are neglected and abandoned old people in this country who cannot afford them. 

A friend of mine, Donlon Havener, has devoted much of his time, money and energy for the past five years in support of the Tom and Norman Home in Guápiles. The home was established in the name of two American friends who lived and died in Costa Rica and is maintained by private donations. There are 12 people now living there, each with his or her own story. One old man was found living under a piece of tin in the mountains. An old woman who lived under a bridge, was hit by a car and had no place to go after she was released from a Caja hospital. Another man was so happy they found him because, he said, he really didn’t want to die alone.

The home gets donations of things from people, but is always in need of money for food and household bills. If you are interested in helping, you can make out a check to: Angel of Love Foundation, and mail it to Donlon Havener at Apdo 291-6150, Santa Ana, Costa Rica. Not all old people, even in Costa Rica, are as fortunate as that woman in the waiting room at Calderón Guardia. 

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Wife got $140,000 indirectly from Alcatel 
OAS chief Rodríguez says that money was a loan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The secretary general of the Organization of American States said Thursday that he had received $140,000 from a French telecommunications firm to advance his candidacy for the job he now holds.

The man is former Costa Rican president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, who served from 1998 to 2002. The admission is significant because the French firm, Alcatel, is central to a growing scandal involving vast sums of money paid to the people who were involved with a cellular telephone contract.

Rodríguez , who was elected unanimously by the nations of the Western Hemisphere, took over the job just last Thursday.

The admission was made to Channel 6 Repretel, which broadcast a telephone call with Rodríguez live as part of its 7 p.m. news show. Rodríguez was in Washington, D.C.  Rodríguez characterized the payment as a loan to help in his campaign to be secretary general of the international organization. But he was unclear as to when the loan was made. In 2002 or 2003, he said.

Earlier, both Repretel and Channel 7 Teletica revealed that the wife of a former official of the local telecommunications monopoly had paid the money to the wife of Rodríguez, Lorena Clare Facio.

The woman, Jean Philip Gallup, a U.S. citizen, is the wife of José Antonio Lobo, who served on the board of directors of the giant Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The company, known as ICE, operates the nation’s telephone systems.

The wife of Lobo has been linked to a $1.4 million payment that Alcatel made through intermediaries, including a bank in the Bahamas.

Alcatel won a $260 million contract to provide upgraded GSM cellular telephone service in Costa 

Rica. Complaints have been made about lack of coverage and lack of dial tones.

The current president, Abel Pacheco, appears to have accepted $100,000 from Alcatel for his 2001-2 campaign. He says he is unaware of the specifics, although others who worked on the campaign confirm the payment.

Costa Rican law forbids taking donations that big or taking donations from foreigners or foreign firms. Plus the Alcatel payment never was reported to the national election commission as the law requires.

Lobo, who is at the center of the current scandal, served as minister of housing for Rodríguez.

Another director of the Costa Rican telecommunications monopoly also appears to have received a $1.2 million payment.

Rodríguez was president when the seeds of another scandal were planted. The national assembly agreed to accept a $39 million loan from Finland on the condition that the money be used to purchase medical equipment from Finland.

The loan generated an undisclosed $9 million commission for officials and the head of a leading pharmaceutical company, Corporación Fischel. Some are now in jail under investigation.

A judge prohibited Rafael Ángel Calderón, another former president, from leaving the country because of his apparent involvement in the loan deal.

Medical professionals said they did not really need all the equipment purchased with the loan.

Rodríguez embarked on a face-to-face campaign to win the post of secretary general. He made personal visits to most of the leaders of the nations of the hemisphere. Following Costa Rican tradition, he sought a consensus, and he was elected unanimously last spring.

Death of Canadian
considered accident

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have concluded that the death of Canadian Linn Lewis Kerry, 54 was an accident. She was found dead Monday afternoon at the Hotel Nuevo Alameda in San Jose. 

She is believed to have died as a result of a head injury sustained in a fall.

The receptionist Oscar Rodriguez who discovered her body said he was concerned because he had not seen her at all that day. 

"I knocked on the door of her hotel room but there was no answer, so we decided to force the door to her room open," he said. "I found her in the bathroom and alerted the emergency services." 

Ms. Kerry, a tourist, had been at the hotel for 19 days and was believed to be here on her own. Investigators from the Judicial Investigating Organization have concluded that injuries to her head were consistent with a fall.

Visiting lama to talk
at Unity this Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Venerable Lama Thubten Wangchen speaks at Unity this Sunday. He is director of Casa del Tibet in Barcelona, Spain.

His commentary will be on Buddhism and Christianity.

The presentation is at 10 a.m. in English and at noon in Spanish.

Call 203-4411 or email for more information.

Unity Costa Rica is 350 meters south of the Shang Hai Restaurant in Piedades de Santa Ana.

Credit card clones
tracked to restaurant

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Since January investigators have been trying to stem a wave of credit card thefts. The crooks somehow were making clones of credit cards and then using them to make purchases.

So what did the victims have in common? They all used their credit card at a chicken restaurant near Juan Santamaría Airport.

From there it did not take Sherlock Holmes to put the rest of the pieces together. So Judicial Investigating Agency agents raided three homes Thursday morning. They were located in Barba de Heredia, San Antonio de Belén and Ciruelas de Alajuela.

Two women, both Cubans in their 30s, were detained. Investigators estimate the loss to the phony credit cards at 20 million colons or about $45,000.

Power cut announced

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad says it will be making improvements in the electrical network that might cause the power to be cut from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

The area likely to be affected the most is Coyol de Alajuela, the company said.

New plant inaugurated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco presided Thursday at the inauguration of the CYTYC Surgical Products plant that employs 120 persons, 95 percent women.

The U.S. company is making its NoveSure system here. This is a device that treats menorrhagia, or excessive menstrual bleeding. 

The plant here will be the principal producer of the system for Latin America, Pacheco said.

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Some ground rules for evaluating where to eat
It is very difficult to compare restaurants, chefs, courses, Tico food and foreign cuisines. The best we can do is to agree on a set of criteria in order to try to be even-handed and equitable rather than capricious and arbitrary. Let’s begin with a simple four-star and symbol system and go from there.

0 stars — Not recommended even if you are in the 
* — Average quality food and not likely to be a
       health hazard. 
** — Better than average when compared to its 
       peers, e.g. roast chicken emporium that 
       outshines other chicken places. 
*** — Very good against all competition. 
**** — Outstanding and worth a special trip to dine 

C — Cheap. Less than 1,500 Colons for platter and 
$ — Less than 3,000 colons for a one-course meal 
       and fruit or soft drink. Inexpensive. 
$$ — Up to 6,000 for the same. Moderate 
$$$ — 6,000 to 10,000. Expensive 
$$$$ — More than 10,000 for main course and
         non-alcoholic beverage. Very expensive.

Other variables include the following: 

1.) Health. I love animals and birds. We have four dogs, three cats and an aviary full of birds, but they don’t belong under the tables or in the rafters in a restaurant. Linens, flatware, plates and glasses must be sparkling clean. 

Although I can’t inspect kitchens without blowing my cover, I peek as best I can and I do inspect bathrooms. If they are not impeccably clean and/or don’t offer soap, I jump to the conclusion that the kitchen may not be hygienic. 

The condition of the condiments on the table and the cleanliness of severs’ clothing are also indirect hints about management’s commitment to a healthy environment. 

2.) Noise. What is fine for a beer hall on a Sunday when Saprissa is hosting Alajuela, is out of place with a pricey otherwise romantic meal. Acoustics matter. In an environment with few carpets and many open windows, sound can intrude from the bus stop or autopista. When tables are so closely spaced that even soft conversations are not private, the pizza may survive, but not the anniversary champagne and sweet nothings. 

I love soft background music, but more is definitely less, particularly for older folks who become functionally deaf if the background noise becomes more than soft. 

3.) Comfort. For those of us who can’t hear as well as we used to, a well-cushioned seat is even more important than large lettering on the menu and enough light to read it by. 

4.) Smoke. For many of us, freedom from cigar and cigarette smoke while we dine is right up there after the First Amendment. If there is no non-smoking section, you should know before you choose the restaurant. 


Dr. Lenny
on our food

5.) Parking. Adequate and safe parking is a plus. 

6.) Staff. The ideal is attentive, helpful, courteous, well groomed and not intrusive. 

7.) Decor. Fresh flowers, candles, soft colors, attractive table settings, a garden, a view and appealing art all gain points from my well-cushioned seat. 

8.) The deepest pothole on our road to objectivity is our individual preference for, e.g. spice, heat, garlic, anchovies or Salsa Lizano. My favorite dessert is a piece of tart apple, a slice of stilton and a small glass of sauterne. Nonetheless, a truly outstanding piece of tres leches should be applauded.

I hope my reviews and your responses to them become complimentary and educational for both of us. Even after decades of studying, I have a lot to learn from readers about food and restaurants, particularly here in Costa Rica. 

Perhaps you can pick up a pearl or two from me along the way. Many critics pride themselves on their acerbic destructive talents. I won’t withhold negative information from you, nor will I ever go out of my way to be cruel or needlessly destructive. I assume the same from you when I share your letters and e-mails with our readership. The love for good food unites us. May our criticisms be constructive and our appetites be satisfied.

Help. When a dozen or more of my neighbors bring packets of labor intensive, beautifully prepared tamales for Christmas, can you suggest a reciprocal homemade (food if possible) gift that is not as labor intensive and is likely to be culturally proper? I can’t make a better, or even comparable tamale without extraordinary effort. If time and editor permit, we’ll publish some of your more interesting ideas before Christmas. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Food reviews are selected on the basis of news value and potential interest to readers. Paid advertising is not a consideration when writing reviews or selecting restaurants to be reviewed.

All A.M. Costa Rica reviewers, food, travel or otherwise, pay their own way at prices equal to those paid by the general public. Reviewers generally do not disclose their purpose until after the visit, meal or performance.

Monday is a day to think about the animals here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday is World Animal Day, and an animal rights organization plans a concert. The event will be at the Teatro Semáforo in Calle de la Amargura, San Pedro at 7 p.m.

The organization is the Unidad Especial de Protección y Rescate Animal.

This is one of several events Sunday and Monday celebrating World Animal Day, which coincides with the feast day of the Roman Catholic St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. He was said to have a special gift with animals.

Sunday a mass will be celebrated and a procession held with a carreta with animals in celebration of  the patron saint at the San Francis Assisi Church in San Francisco de Dos Rios. A carreta is the traditional Costa Rican oxcart.

World animal day, itself, is significant for Costa Rica because the country has so many endangered animals. The unidad, or special unit for protection and rescue of animals, is stressing wild animals.

Edgar Castrillo, president of the group in San José, is a specialist in ethologic "branch part of the zoology, which study the animal behavior and comprehension," he said. 

He stressed the importance of protecting the rights of animals and to create a culture to support that goal.

Castrillo notes that science has proved the intelligence level of many animals is far higher than humans thought. In addition, he said humans and animals all share the same universe, the same world, the same oxygen and evolution.

Science also is trying to prove that animals have feelings as humans do, said Castrillo. He gives as examples dolphin and their high-level communication skills. He also mentions gorillas and chimps and their hand sign language.

The organization also is seeking money and help, and Castrillo’s is collaborating with veterinarians at 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
World Animal Day is a time to think about guacamayas or scarlet macaw (Ara macao) that is among the bird species losing habitat due to the destruction of forests.

the University of Costa Rica and with volunteers there and at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.
Meanwhile on  Oct. 10 the Church of San Francisco de Dos Rios will have the blessing of the animals after 10 a.m. mass.

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China eyes Latin America to quench its oil thirst
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The search for oil to power its fast-growing economy has led China to various parts of the world where there are large oil reserves. Although it is geographically far away from China's shores, the Chinese have been actively pursuing deals in Latin America. Venezuela holds the most interest for Beijing.

For the past several years, Chinese diplomats and trade representatives have been looking far and wide in Latin America, seeking joint partnerships and stakes in oil and mining operations. 

Last year, Sinochem, a Chinese oil trading company, signed a $100 million deal with Ecuador for a 14 percent stake in an oil field there. China has also explored oil deals in neighboring Peru. The Chinese have gone to Brazil to invest in infrastructure projects in exchange for soybeans, cotton and sugarcane-based ethanol fuel. Brazil is a leader in the development of this renewable source of energy.

But oil remains China's primary need, and the Latin American country that offers China the greatest potential is Venezuela. China started making deals for oil in Caracas even before President Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998 and began a policy of diversifying his nation's oil export market. The United States is Venezuela's current top customer, but Chavez has had rocky relations with Washington. 

A former director of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, and a Chavez critic, Jose Toro Hardy, says China is unlikely to replace the United States as the nation's prime customer.

"Venezuela has very large oil reserves, but our oil reserves are not good quality reserves," he explained. "Our oil has lots of sulfur. It has lots of metals. It requires very special refineries to be able to transform that bad quality oil into high quality products. There are no such refineries in China. On top of that, there is no way to transport that oil from Venezuela to China in economical terms."

China has become a major importer of Venezuela's Orimulsion, a tar-based fuel developed and branded by Petroleos de Venezuela that can be used in boilers. Chinese companies in partnership with Petroleos de Venezuela are investing $330 million to produce 6.5 million metric tons of Orimulsion annually by the end of this year. China has constructed at least one major electrical power plant designed to burn this fuel in Guandong province.

As for oil, international security expert Gal Luft, 

director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, says China's need for oil will outweigh any logistical problems in obtaining it.

"It makes sense for the Chinese to look for oil anywhere they can. They went into the Sudan. They have gone to other African countries. They go to the Caspian and they also go to Venezuela," he said. "Of course, the crude is shipped by very large crude carriers and they have to go through unstable waters sometimes, but so is the oil the United States is importing from the Middle East and Africa and other places around the world."

The Chinese are expected to invest around $500 million over the next few years in Venezuela. China could also work deals for oil through swaps, buying Venezuelan oil for export to the United States, say, in exchange for oil closer to home.

Some strategic planners worry that China may soon clash with the United States over oil reserves in the Middle East and, perhaps, even in the Americas. The moves by Venezuela to diversify its customer base and its deals with China have, so far, had little effect on deliveries to the United States. Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States. 

One constraint on Venezuela is the fact that a large part of the oil it sends to the United States goes through Citgo, a U.S.-based refining and distribution company that is a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. For this reason, Toro Hardy, the former oil company director, questions Chavez's policy of quarreling with the United States.

"If we do not sell oil to the United States, as President Chavez keeps repeating, that he will stop selling oil to the United States, well, we will simply be killing Citgo, which belongs to us," he said.

But many political analysts doubt that the Chavez rhetoric will ever lead to a halt in exports to the United States. His defenders note that much of his anger toward the United States comes from April, 2002, when he was briefly overthrown in a coup and the Bush administration was slow to condemn the assault against his democratically elected government. 

President Chavez has also caused friction with Washington by selling oil to Communist Cuba at cut-rate prices. The Venezuelan leader would probably like to expand his deals with China as well, but there has been no cut in exports to the United States. Many U.S. oil industry representatives say their relations with the Chavez government have been smooth and that the oil has kept flowing except for a period in late 2002 when much of the sector was shut down by a strike instigated by Chavez opponents. 

U.S. policy toward Haiti said to deter immigration
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of experts on Haiti say the United States applies a different standard when it comes to problems facing the Western Hemisphere's most impoverished country. The experts issued their assessment during a panel discussion here.

Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the non-profit National Coalition for Haitian Rights in New York, told a Georgetown University audience that Washington's policy toward Haiti is based primarily on what he calls American national interests.

"What is the national interest of the United States with respect to Haiti? As far as I'm concerned, it's two-fold," he said. "It's containing Haitian migration to the United States, that's first and foremost, as a primary reason why the United States engages in Haiti, and the second is to contain drug trafficking from Haiti and from the Caribbean to the United States."

Similar sentiments were echoed by Susan Benesch, a refugee advocate with the human rights group, Amnesty International. She says that, since 1980, the United States has admitted few Haitian refugees, compared with the number of refugees admitted from other countries.

Ms. Benesch says that even when the political crisis in February forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power, the United States repatriated large numbers of Haitians who were intercepted at sea, while trying to flee their troubled homeland.

"The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted several hundred 

people, most notably on two large boats, at the end of February and in early March. Not a single one of them, not one of the people aboard those boats was recognized as an asylum seeker," she said. 

Also discussing Haitian-American policy was Erin Corcoran, a staff attorney with the group Human Rights First. She says many Haitian asyulm seekers do not get adequate legal representation, once they reach American soil and are treated differently than populations from other countries.

"If the Coast Guard comes across a boat of Cubans, they're automatically provided a Spanish interpreter, and they're informed of their right to seek asylum and they're asked a series of questions about whether or not they're afraid to go back to Cuba," she noted. 

Under U.S. policy, Cubans who make it to American soil are generally allowed to stay, while those picked up at sea are sent home.

Ms. Corcoran says things are different for Haitian refugees intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Often times, the Coast Guard cutters are not equipped with Creole interpreters and many of the people on the boat don't speak French and only speak Creole. As a result, Haitians don't even know of their right to seek asylum," she said. "The U.S. justification for that is that they want to deter Haitians from coming to the United States because they believe that Haitians are usually only coming for economic reasons."

Organizers of the panel discussion on Haiti say invited government officials failed to show up. 

Jo Stuart
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