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These stories were published Friday, Oct. 4, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 197
Jo Stuart
About us
You would run, too, if he had a revolver
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The young man came running from Avenida 2 into the small plaza in front of the Teatro Nacional and the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

He was clearly frightened with a stark, white 
face and lips issuing a plea in Spanish: "Help me! Help me! They’re trying to kill me!"

He ran to a guard at the hotel, but the guard told him not to enter: "You have to wait outside."

The young man was in a panic. Then from the same direction came an older man running with a revolver in his right hand.

The young man, about 25, turned to me and begged: "Help me! Call the police!" I was just leaving the hotel cafe. He looked in a panic but he also looked, somehow, not guilty.

The man with the gun came closer, and the fleeing young man tried to hide himself behind the guard, me and the concrete arch at the hotel entrance.

Then I did what probably was a foolish thing. Drawing myself up to my full four-feet, six inches, I confronted the man with the gun. "He’s a robber," the gunman shouted. "Calm down," I told him. "What are you going to do? Shoot someone?"

The man stopped in his path to the young man and stood there. Soon he was joined by a young woman. Both complained that the young man had just stolen a cellular telephone, a common event in downtown San José.

"Show me your backpack," I told the frightened young man. He let me explore until I found a cellular telephone. "What numbers are in the memory," I asked him. He listed his family, a cousin, his employer, others.

As the antagonists watched, I punched a number, and a member of the young man’s family answered. Then I got his boss on the line.

"This is his telephone," I announced to the gunman, who may have been an off-duty police officer, and the woman. By now, the man has holstered the revolver.

The older man, perhaps 35 or 40, explained that another passerby had identified the young man as the cellular thief. Other late afternoon diners at the cafe and other hotel and casino guests formed a small crowd to evaluate each person’s story. 

Finally two municipal policemen arrived, began taking names and helped calm down the older man and the woman who actually had lost a telephone.

They had chased the wrong man. He ran because he was scared (not without reason).

I felt that I may have stopped a shooting. I, at least, had stopped two people from taking the law into their own hands, an all too frequent occurrence here.

The return of the native — but don't drink the water
Here I am back in my old apartment (where I have been all along but a lot of people don't seem to know that). When my landlords assured me my rent would not be raised, I decided not to move to Moravia. 

Then when I suggested they remove the wall-to-wall carpet in my bedroom and put in tile, they said they would retile the whole apartment, I accepted even though it meant moving to a one-room apartment in San Pedro while they accomplished this.

Now that I am happily resettled in my newly tiled apartment, which happens to have the best view of the city (in my opinion), I am thinking about going back to the States — at least for a short time.

People who think about coming to Costa Rica worry about different things.  Some worry about how safe they will be from crime and earthquakes. Some worry that they won’t be able to drink the water or that they will get some tropical disease like malaria.

Some have worried that they will be caught in the middle of a political coup or guerrilla warfare. My mother worried about snakes. Nobody has mentioned being worried about the traffic.

Thinking about all of this, I realize that I have some concerns about going back to the States. I love eggs. I eat them just about every day in one form or another, and I even prepare recipes with raw eggs. We don’t have a problem with salmonella here, but they do in the States.

I am also worried about e-coli, but not so much because I seldom eat beef, and almost never eat in fast food restaurants. I worry that I will have to drink bottled water. Then there is the West Nile Virus. I am allergic to mosquito bites as it is.

Just recently I heard that there were two cases of malaria in some eastern states (fortunately, I will be going to California). And there are all of those forest fires AND the traffic. Air pollution and traffic I can get here.

Then there is the possibility of war looming.  In response to my column about a war with Saddam Hussein, I got two questioning letters:

David Shear of Pompano Beach, Florida wrote, "Are you out of your mind? No proof, maybe you should watch TV more! Those dead Kurdish babies clutching their mothers, I suppose you think the Holocaust never happened. It’s liberals like you that make the world UNSAFE with your naive, stick-your-head-in-the-sand mentality.  Get real, lady. I dare you to print this, you won't.

R.M. Hays of San Joaquin Delflores, Heredia 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

wrote, "Ms. Stuart what more proof do you want when the demonic Hussein gases his own people and it was documented on film.

I responded to Mr. Shear: "I was not referring to Saddam’s gassing of the Kurdish people of Iraq when I talked of accusations that have not been backed up by fact.  We have long known about this terrible act — it occurred during the war between Iraq and Iran in the 80’s.

"Nor do I doubt that Saddam has anthrax — we gave it to him.  I suppose the U.S. was not as appalled by the use of gas then because we were supporting Saddam at the time. My understanding is that Saddam’s excuse was that the Kurds were aiding and abetting the Iranians.

"In a way, the Kurds are to Saddam what the Palestinians are to Sharon. Unfortunately, innocent Palestinians are killed each time Sharon tries to find his terrorists.

"Terrible atrocities occur during wars.  I don’t know whether it is more horrible to die from gas poisoning, radiation from a bomb, machine guns, or friendly fire.

However they die, innocent people are killed in wars.  That is why I am against war as a solution.

"I know there are people who, knowing that Bush and Rumsfeld are honorable men, believe them when they talk of the imminent threat.  I think we need more proof that Saddam is harboring Al-Qaeda, that Saddam has threatened the United States, or is close to having a nuclear bomb.

"Attacking Iraq means many more innocent people dead. I think the number of liberals like me against the war is growing."

Unmollified, Mr. Shear replied: "Lady, freedom has a price. Why have you chosen to live in Costa Rica? Because it’s a country with a democracy! So far, Costa Rica has been spared from a Muslim populace. Heaven help you if they decide to settle there. This is a pagan religion, and there is no negotiating. So enjoy your little bubble now. Because you are truly clueless on world politics."

Maybe Mr. Shear is right.  I should stay in Costa Rica and enjoy my little bubble while I can.

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The Art Beat: All pieced together
A collage is defined as the artistic composition of fragments pasted on a surface. An exposition of the collage technique will appear at the Little Theater in Bello Horizonte, Escazú Oct. 12.

The collection, named “One Night Stand,” consists of pieces by artist Katya De Luisa, who is originally from Chicago but has been living in Costa Rica for about 25 years. De Luisa has been working in her personal collage style and showing her art for just as long.

Words and Photos by
Saray Ramírez Vindas

The message of her work is strongly influenced by her own experiences. Some pieces express the good and others, the bad, with and without meanings.

Her works are based on the experiences she had while she was traveling and working with indigenous Latin American cultures as well as with poor children and people with Alzheimer’s disease.

OOOmmm! A collage painting of De Luisa in meditation. 

Katya de Luisa shows off her masks constructed from assorted antique jewels.

She likes collage as a medium because it allows her to express herself freely. Her exposition encompasses long-forgotten as well as recent historical events. One expresses the horror of the Sept. 11 attacks to the World Trade Center.

De Luisa’s art comes from within — it’s a way to express her inner voice. “Art is a tool of communication and expression with amazing results and people can’t live without it,” the artist said.

Her works are full of different faces and images, which are open to interpretation. The opportunity to see the exhibition is limited, as it will only appear at the Little Theater for one night.

Book chronicles Costa Rica's natural wonders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican Embassy officials in the United States got a look at a new wildlife book Thursday.

The book is a widely acclaimed field guide published by the University of Texas, Austin, Press in May. Titled ‘Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica,’ it is written by Carrol Henderson, an experienced wildlife biologist, tour guide and traveler.

Jaime Daremblum, Costa Rican ambassador to the United States, declared Henderson’s insights into Costa Rican wildlife as a brilliant resource for eco-tourists in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica, described by the University of Texas, Austin Web site as being at the biological crossroads of the Americas, is home to around half a million different species. Henderson’s book provides information on nearly 300 of these species.

The choices of species were selected as ones which eco-tourists are most likely to encounter.

Henderson, in his descriptions, delves into individual species accounts, accompanied by location maps and close-up photography. Side by side with the descriptions is information about Costa Rica’s natural environment, lists of conservation organizations and wildlife sites.

In the book’s introduction, Henderson says: “Among European explorers, the first recorded visitor was Christopher Columbus in 1502. On his fourth trip to the New World, Columbus landed where the port city of Limón is now located.

“He called this new place ‘Costa Rica,’ meaning ‘Rich Coast,’ because he thought the gold came 

from there,” continues Henderson. “Spanish treasure seekers eventually discovered their error and went elsewhere in their quest for gold.

The irony is that Christopher Columbus actually picked the perfect name for this country.”

Henderson says that Spaniards’ mistake was the array of “rich biological diversity” that they left behind. His passion for Costa Rica and its vast inhabitants is undeniable.

For him, he says, the lure of Costa Rica is not big hotels on the beaches, it is the calling of the wild and its splendorous environment.

The book is divided up into chapters according to specie, but there are also sections dedicated to specific regions of Costa Rica. For example, there are sections for the Caribbean lowlands, Central Valley and tropical dry forest.

The whole spectrum of the food chain is covered, from moths and butterflies to monkeys and armadillos. There is also an entry for Costa Rica’s most widely known bird, the toucan.

Henderson, who has made 25 trips to Costa Rica since 1969, also has experience of other Latin American countries, having made field trips all over the hemisphere.

He has further wildlife experience from his time as a tour guide in Costa Rica. In this domain, he fronted around 35 birding and wildlife trips. Henderson is a wildlife biologist of international repute who works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Daremblum at the embassy rounded off his speech by saying that this book is a must for anyone interested in exploring Costa Rican wildlife. 

A commentary
New tourism plan raises old questions
By Carol Céspedes
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

World Tourism Day is over and Costa Rica has once more celebrated what tourism has done for its national economy and basked in international acclaim for its enlightened environmental policy.

Yet in all the pronouncements and presentations, I have a sense that the country has still not resolved the old conflict between environment, economic development, and national autonomy. Indeed, with all the talk about sustainable tourism development, I have a sense that the same old issues are coming back to haunt us.

Ruben Pacheco, minister of tourism, has avowed his support of environmental protection but he has also proposed a ten-year National Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development.

The plan would more than double Costa Rica's annual tourism, aiming at an annual tourism goal of 2.3 million foreign visitors in 2012 — this in a country with under four million in its total population.

Doubling the tourists will mean doubling the hotel rooms, so a program of incentives is proposed to facilitate construction of 18,000 new hotel rooms. 

This leads to several questions with a familiar ring to them. The first one that must occur to any tourism professional in Costa Rica today is "Why?" Why start an incentive program for construction and fitting of new hotel rooms when the majority of hotel and lodge owners are scrambling to fill the rooms that they have?

I recently made a trip through the Sarapiqui and Tortuguero, returning to attend the Travelmart tourism show in San Jose. This is a traditional low season, but Costa Ricans in the tour business reported feeling a pinch more serious than they would expect in a normal down season.

Large hotel chains like Barcelo and Marriott are taking a share of the market that formerly went to smaller businesses. Added to this is the intensive promotion of inclusive properties in the Golfo de Papagayo, where tourists flying into Liberia are bussed straight to the resorts, hardly making a ripple in the local economy.

With the tourism downturn in the wake of Sept. 11, I am reminded of the days of the Nicaraguan conflict when hotels were threatened with bankruptcy as tourists feared travel in Central America. As a tourism professional, I prefer to see a market eager for the few rooms available rather than one frantic to fill too many empty ones.

The second question is "Where?" This I would like to see answered in detail. The Pacheco administration should be commended for tackling the overdue issue of zoning regulation. The development plan calls for establishment of 10 regional zones.

Since I have been unable to secure a copy of the zoning, I cannot comment on its appropriateness. I must trust that it will protect those areas where the "medium-size" hotel of 50 to 100 rooms is more than a fragile natural and cultural environment can support.

A third question is "How," and the proposal for new tax incentives for tourism seems to be the answer. Yet those of us who have been in the business for more than a few years remember that one effect of previous incentive programs was to attract players to the business for the wrong reasons.

Importation incentives were discontinued after they became a loophole for corruption and a focus

of resentment. Custom exemptions can be very helpful to hotel owners, but with the Costa Rican government facing a deficit and talking about fiscal austerity, the minister is going to have a tough fight to support privileges for one sector.

That brings us to a question that has not received enough attention, "Who?" Who will be the developers, the investors, and ultimately the owners of the Costa Rican tourism industry? In a small and relatively unwealthy (I would not say poor) country, the investment comes from outside and profit follows investment.

Hotel properties wind up in the hands of multinational corporations, and there is probably nothing wrong with that, given the need for large facilities to handle conventions, business travel, and the mass tourism crowd.

Yet Costa Rica is blessed with one remarkable and little-noted asset - its small business people. Every small town in Costa Rica has dozens of small local businesses or microempresarios hoping to profit from the promised boom in tourism. They deserve assistance, not through special tax incentives, but through training programs, assistance in promotion, and especially through credit.

How about a government-backed small-business loan program? I am no economist, but I doubt that a program of loans to credit-worthy small business people could be more expensive than the proposed import tax incentives. It would also have the effect of revitalizing local communities, encouraging democratic institutions, and keeping capital in the country.

Now for the final question, which is also the first. Which model of tourism development is actually sustainable - the large-scale hotel project ("medium-size" is still larger than most hotels in Costa Rica) or the small owner-managed property?

The argument for larger, better-capitalized tourism projects is that they have the capital and know-how to do things right. A check of hotels that have been certified under the much-acclaimed Certification for Sustainable Tourism of the ICT shows large hotels like the Herradura, the Cariari Melia, and the Marriott receiving a rating as high as such dedicated eco-lodges as Rara Avis. 

Larger hotels have the capital to address problems of impact such as energy use, careful monitoring of wastewater, and recycling. They can also protect large green areas that are beyond the means of smaller operations.

The lack of zoning in tourism areas has created plenty of horror stories about unregulated small-scale development. Yet I believe that the Costa Rican middle class deserves a break.

Once zoning is in place to prohibit over-development, the small locally-owned hotel or nature lodge is a more sustainable solution, not only because of its lower environmental impact, but because it also sustains the quality of Costa Rican social and civic life. Viva el capitalismo! Viva la democracia!

Carol Holtzman Cespedes is the owner of Halintours, Inc., a tour operation that she founded
in 1986 to promote environmentally responsible travel to Costa Rica. With a Ph.D. in Asian studies, a discipline that she describes as a combination of anthropology and political science, she has lived and conducted research in several countries around the world. She was a resident of Costa Rica in 1986 to 1987 and presently makes her home in Austin, Texas. She is currently dividing her time between tourism and writing about Costa Rica.

U.S. study gives insight
on Hispanic voting

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Although Hispanics make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, these numbers have not translated into equivalent electoral power. A new study attempts to answer why. 

There are 35 million Hispanics in the United States, but it is estimated that less than six million of them voted in national elections in November 2000. 

Rodolfo de la Garza, vice president of research at the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and political science professor at Columbia University, says one reason is that candidates are not wooing the right segments of the Latino population.

"Campaigns should target young people, low income people, less educated people," he said. "That's where the growth rate is. That's where the non-voters are." 

He says his research shows that instead, candidates have been tailoring their messages to attract highly educated and older Latino voters. "Latino candidates and people trying to win the Latino vote are following exactly the wrong strategy," said La Garza. 

According to Roberto Suro, director of the private research group the Pew Hispanic Center, candidates often do not understand the politics of Hispanic voters. He says Hispanics have concerns that often blend the lines between mainstream partisan definitions of "liberal" and "conservative." 

"Latino Democrats differ from White Democrats quite noticeably on social issues," he said. "And Latino Republicans differ from White Republicans on tax issues." 

In some U.S. states, including Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, non-U.S. citizens, who have legally immigrated, are permitted to take part in local elections in the communities where they live. Suro says this is one route to eventually wider Hispanic participation in national politics.

"I suspect anything you do that opens the franchise to more people, particularly if you have a population of people who are eligible to become citizens and they get to vote, you would think that if you're able to vote in the local election and you actually go and do it, you might want to vote in elections for federal office, which would require becoming a [U.S.] citizen," said Suro. 

And which party would they support? Suro says since Hispanic voters do not fit neatly into either of the two major parties’ mainstreams, their allegiance sometimes shifts from one election to the next. 

Nevertheless, Mollyann Brodie, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation says the Pew Hispanic Center and Kaiser Family Foundation study released Thursday found strong support for positions generally identified with the Democratic party.

"You'll note that Latinos are considerably more likely to say that they prefer a larger government that provides more services even if it means paying higher taxes, than they are to say they prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services," she said. 

Not surprisingly then, researchers found that about half of the 1,300 Latinos surveyed identified themselves as Democrats. Only 20 percent claimed to be Republican. 

Mediator tries to end
U.S. port shutdown

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Shipping executives and dockworkers have begun talks with a U.S. government mediator trying to end a labor dispute that has shut down 29 West Coast ports, and poses a major threat to Asia. 

The White House is urging a quick settlement, saying the longer the shutdown lasts, the more damage it will do to the domestic economy. 

The dispute began on Sept. 29 and is costing the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion a day. West Coast ports are the key gateway for Asian exports to the United States. 

Because of the shutdown, a California plant jointly owned by Toyota and General Motors shut down Thursday due to a lack of parts. Reports say other U.S. manufacturing plants are edging closer to shutdown as the ripple effect of the dock shutdown spreads. 

Japan's biggest automobile and computer companies are said to be considering airlifting auto parts and electronic components to the United States. 

An electronics industry trade group has asked President Bush to use his powers to order an end to the shutdown by imposing a so-called "cooling off" period. 

Last year, ports affected by the shutdown handled more than $300 billion worth of cargo. 

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines, locked out more than 10,000 workers on Sunday.

Theater group audition
for Christmas show

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group will hold auditions Monday for its upcoming show, “A Christmas Carol.” It will take place after the general meeting.

The show will be a one-man performance. Therefore, there is only one part up for grabs. However, technical staff is also needed for the show. The performance needs a lighting designer, stage manager and assistant director.

Lisa DeFuso, the director, can be contacted at 228-9586 or at lisadefuso@yahoo.com.

Hurricane Lili demoted
to tropical storm

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Lili has been downgraded to a tropical storm after striking the U.S. Gulf Coast Thursday and wreaking havoc on the southern state of Louisiana. 

Before hitting the United States, the hurricane was a Category four on a five-point scale, with winds topping 225 kilometers per hour, almost 140 mph. Hundreds of thousands of people were told to evacuate their homes. However, by the time the hurricane made landfall it was down to a Category two. 

Damage was significantly less than it could have been. Still, the hurricane destroyed roofs, downed trees and caused flooding. Tens of thousands of people lost their electricity. There also have been reports of tornadoes spawned by Lili. 

No deaths were reported. 

President Bush dispatched Joseph Allbaugh, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to Louisiana to survey the damage. The president already has declared the state a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid. 

The storm hit Louisiana with many people still cleaning up a week after Hurricane Isidore flooded parts of the state. 

Hurricane Lili caused major damage in western Cuba earlier in the week, and is blamed for at least eight deaths in Jamaica and Saint Vincent.

That’s not what’s meant
by breaking the bank

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man got into a disagreement with guards at the Casino Costa Rica Morazán. So he walked across the street early Thursday and punched the six-foot by six-foot window of a Bank of Costa Rica branch. The window shattered.

The man quickly fled in a microbus, but police stopped a suspect a few minutes later and detained a man identified by his last names, Sibaja Vargas, they reported.

False revisión papers
are making the rounds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are seeking vehicles with false inspection papers after several such forged documents were found around Quepos.

They also are seeking a suspect to face a charge of fabricating the documents.

The documents show proof that the vehicle has been inspected by Riteve SyC, the firm chosen by the government to do the job.

The forgeries also call into question the validity the tiny window stickers that also show the vehicle has passed the inspection.

The police investigation began last Tuesday after a man brought his vehicles and papers to the Riteve mobile inspection station that was set up in Parrita. 

The man asked employees there if the papers were authentic. He said he purchased the documents for 30,000 colons, about $81, said agents.

As soon as the employees realized that the documents were false, the Judicial Investigating Organization was called in.

Wednesday agents raided a house in Barrio Boca Vieja in Quepos seeking a man with the last names of Morales Martinez.

In another area of town, the agents confiscated another set of false inspection documents. That vehicle owner said he paid 20,000, about $54. The man said he got the paperwork from the same suspect, said agents.

Investigators said that they assumed that in the general area there were a number of false inspection documents, and they are continuing to search for fraudulent paperwork. Later they said they had extended their search to false window stickers.

The inspections, called revisión tecnica, costs about 9,000 colons or about $24. but the cost can be much more if the inspections find faulty car parts and require reinspections.

More Internet service interruptions noted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S. A., the Internet monopoly, had some shaky moments Thursday around 1:15 p.m., the same time the Internet connections crashed the day before.

But there was no long blackout Thursday. 

Meanwhile, some computer users are mystified how the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad can keep its Internet system running while RACSA, a subsidiary, said it had to hook up to another intercontinental cable.

Both RACSA and ICE now offer Internet service.

RACSA blamed its Wednesday problem on a fault in a line operated by France Telecom in the United States that connects the cable from Costa Rica to various U.S. distribution nodes.

Even though the Internet connections continued to operate Thursday, some delays were reported and some Internet pages outside the country could not be viewed.
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