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(506) 2223-1327        Published  Monday, Oct. 6, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 198       E-mail us
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Youngsters of the Raices de Mi Tierra group perform a Nicaraguan dance.
kids dancing
A.M. Costa Rica/Elyssa Pachico

A time for celebrating and for some hidden history
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As she waited for members of the calypso band to finish tuning their guitars and steel drums, dancer Grace Fernández smoothed her white skirts then
Ms. Fernancez
Grace Fernández
asked a technician if she could be given a microphone.

Sunday at the Museo Nacional's fifth annual Festivo Multicultural, things were just beginning to wind down as Ms. Fernández and the calypso band – a celebration of Costa Rica's Afro-Caribbean heritage – took the stage at 2 p.m. Food vendors packed away uneaten pupusas and scraped leftover arroz con pollo into plastic tupperware, while a few tired
children wailed crankily at their parents.

However, before the performance — a dance originating from the Santaría religion, originally performed by “Caribbean witches,” as Ms. Fernández put it — she wanted to remind the audience of a little bit of uncomfortable history.

“This is a dance that comes from Limón, and has roots in the Jamaican population that immigrated there,” she said, speaking into the microphone. “But we musn't forget that Afro-Caribbean culture in Costa Rica doesn't just originate from the laborers who came from Jamaica to work on the railroad. It originates also from the populations in Guanacaste . . .  in Cartago, who were originally brought over as slaves.”

The national museum's festival is a buildup to Día Internacional de la Raza on Oct. 12, celebrated in the United States as Columbus Day. While the festival showcased four cultures that make up the foundation of Costa Rica's rich ethnic history — Chinese, Spanish, native, and Afro-Caribbean — there were still some who said that Costa Rican society didn't always represent its history as heterogeneously as Sunday's festivities.

“I'm proud to come to San José and perform and allow others to get to know a little bit about where we're coming from, but our culture has been ignored for the most part by society,” said Alexís Rodríguez, who performed onstage with Proyecto Jirondai, a seven-piece musical group that collects and performs traditional native songs. “We've been objects of fun. But for me, it's a pleasure to play music. I'm not ashamed of my culture.”

Along with Proyecto Jirondai, Rodríguez performed four songs originating from the Gnöbe tribe, a native group living in the south of Costa Rica by the Panamá border.

According to one of the festival's organizers, María Elena Masís, who works for the museum's education and musicology departments, the Gnöbe have not always been represented in Costa Rica as well as they were during Sunday's celebration.

“In Costa Rica the Gnöbes are traditionally referred to as the Guaymíes, which is not the appropriate term,” she said. “The term 'guaymí' has its origins in the Spanish conquest of Central America, when the Spanish conquistadores used to kidnap indigenous women and rape them. When they did this, other indians would cry, 'guaymí, guaymí,' which means, 'Don't take her.'”

“I see museums and newspapers here use this term, and it always upsets me,” she added. “Because for
Mascarada performers dance the 'La Barveña,' which originated in that Heredia community.
A.M. Costa Rica/Elyssa Pachico
Mascarada performers dance the 'La Barveña,' which originated in that Heredia community.

that culture, it's a term that brings up a lot of bad memories and regrets.”

Ms. Fernández, who wowed the crowd with her traditional Santaría dance to a lively calypso score, said that while she thought the festival did a good, balanced job at representing Costa Rica's cultures, this wasn't always true the rest of the time.

“There's history that they don't teach in the classrooms here,” said Ms. Fernández, who also has performed for the Corte Judicial and the Asamblea Legislativa. “Everybody knows about the blacks from Limón, but less people talk about the conditions of the slaves who came through Nicoya.”

Ms. Fernández pointed out that while April 11 is celebrated as a national holiday in Costa Rica – in recognition of the Battle of Rivas, when Juan Santamaria became a national hero for his role in defeating American filibuster William Walker – the date of his actual surrender on May 1 is not. She sees this as failing to recognize the threat that Walker – who intended to spread black slavery in Central America – posed to Costa Rica's African populations.

“I think the Afro-Caribbeans are very well represented today, but that's not always true,” she said. “There are some things they don't teach, so instead you have to say it directly.”

Five cultural heritages – including Nicaraguan, in acknowledgment of the nation's sizable immigrant population in Costa Rica – were showcased at the festival, a downsize from previous years. In 2006, the festival represented 34 different cultures, and was organized more like a street fair rather than taking place inside the museum.

“It was a big success, but it was also a strain on the museum's resources,” Ms. Masís said. “So this year, we decided to focus on the four main cultural groups.”

While some continued to question Costa Rica's commitment to fully representing its diversity, others said they simply enjoyed the day's wide range of colorful food, crafts and performances.

“I thought it was all very lovely,” said Mercedes Torres, a volunteer who helped run an arts and crafts table, where children and parents busily colored cardboard masks with crayons. “I thought it represented very well what all the different cultures are about.”

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Gasoline goes down slightly,
but water rates are going up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of gasoline and diesel and the fare to ride the valley passenger train will see slight reductions. But the price of water is going up in a range of from 17 to 26 percent.

These were the decisions of the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicos Públicos announced Friday.

Super gasoline will be reduced from the current 736 colons ($1.34) per liter to 722 colons ($1.31). Regular, now called gasoline plus because of a slightly higher octane rating, goes from 721 colons ($1.31) to 708 colons ($1.29).

Diesel will take a bigger dip, going from 726 colons ($1.32) per liter to 650 colons ($1.18).

There are similar reductions in other petroleum products, including liquid natural gas, which will be reduced by 17 percent, said the regulating authority. Many Costa Ricans use this gas for cooking.

Using a new way of figuring the cost of public services, the authority set the fare on the valley train at 400 colons (73 U.S. cents) for a trip the full length from Pavas to the Universidad Latina in San Pedro. There also is the fare of 200 colons for traveling from Universidad Latina to the Estación del Pacifico and from the Estación del Pacifico to Pavas.

The reduction is designed to increase use of the passenger train, the agency said.

The water rate increase is designed to keep the income of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados at 4.68 percent profitability, the agency said. Homes in poorer areas will see a 17 percent increase while businesses have the higher increase. There also are higher rates for higher usage.

The agency also approved increases for 2010 (8.11 percent)  and 2011 (7.4 percent), it said.

Abortion figures identified

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial employees have identified the two women who have been linked to an abortion death. They were identified by their last names of Villalobos Miranda and Reyes Chaves. The former is the mother of Michelle Calderón Villalobos of Tibás, who died of an infection some days after the induced abortion, according to a medical report. Ms. Reyes lives in Limón.

Both women have been freed on the condition that they sign in every 15 days with prosecutors and do not approach witnesses. Miss Calderón was 16 when she died March 30, 2007.

Fundraiser held for injured surfer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jacó residents held a fundraiser Saturday for Dakota Kilbridge, a surfer who survived an attack by a crocodile. The fundraiser for the 13-year-old was at the Backyard Bar in Jacó. He already has undergone several surgeries for the injuries to a leg sustained Sept. 19. He was surfing at Playa Hermosa near Jacó.

Our reader's opinion
One way to improve
customer service here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My husband is prone to losing his cell phone four times a year, and he went to buy a new one at Hypermas.  Right away it started having problems with the memory and within the normal seven-day period he took it back. 

Since he speaks Spanish but has no idea of what they reply in return, I explained the problem to the desk at Hypermas/Walmart.  They said they would send it for repair but it would take two weeks.  Obviously that meant he would not have a cell phone for two weeks.  He asked to speak to the manager which, of course, no manager ever wants to appear to meet with ordinary people in Costa Rica. They are always in a meeting 24 hours a day.  He insisted, so two different supervisors came and agreed the cell phone was not working correctly even though it received calls but the memory was haywire. 

Out of the blue a lady appeared who was just a greeter named Iliana Fernández.  She not only spoke perfect English but insisted on telling the supervisors to call Walmart headquarters in Costa Rica.  We finally got someone in authority, and she explained to this person she had bought the exact same cell phone and had the exact same problem and that Walmart knew there was a design problem with this model. 

So finally after one hour of explaining this, the authorization came to exchange for a different model.  My husband then wrote to Walmart headquarters in the U. S. a glowing recommendation for Iliana Fernández that she acted in the best interest of the customer, which is not common in Costa Rica.  They never answered.  Then he called Javier Sibaja, who according to info is the head person for Walmart in Costa Rica.  He never answered.

Now I am writing this because I am a shareholder of Walmart.  And I wish any other shareholders out there to write to Lee Scott, the CEO of Walmart in the U. S. and tell him that when an employee like Iliana Fernández does a good job, promote her, and when the head guy does not return calls, ask him why. This is the only way to get better service in Costa Rica.

Angela Jimenez
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Government moves in to claim Latin American Idol finalist
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of the republic used part of his weekly television spot to plug for María José Castillo and urge Costa Ricans to make telephone calls to raise her vote total.

Meanwhile, the minister of Cultura has put the Orquesta
Sinfónica Nacional on notice that a special concert will welcome the 18-year-old Heredia woman when she returns at the end of the week regardless of the outcome of her "Latin American Idol" competition.

The success of the woman shows that Costa Rican culture can compete internationally, said María Elena Carballo, the culture mininster Friday.

She and President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed a decree that allows the government to spend money for
Miss Castillo
María José Castillo
publicity for the woman. Ms. Castillo's participation in the show has been declared of cultural interest to the country.

Arias himself has given 1 million colons of his personal funds to the parents of the woman, José Luis Castillo y María Eugenia Gutiérrez. so they can send more text message votes. That's about $1,818. Banco Nacional has opened two accounts so fans can make donations to Ms. Castillo. They are colons: 200-01-004-111111-9 and dollars: 200-02-004-513821-1. The bank said that it shares the values that brought Ms. Castillo toward her goal.
It was unclear exactly why the girl needs the money. Sony Entertainment, the producer of the reality television show, is handling expenses and has entered into contracts with all the participants.

Still, for Costa Rica, that the young woman is one of two finalists in the Argentina-based show provides a rush similar to a Superbowl game or perhaps Boston winning the World Series.

Arias said he has been in communication with Ms. Castillo to congratulate her.  "She  has touched the hearts of all Costa Ricans in all corners of this country and in all social classes and has united Costa Ricans who long for her triumph." said Arias.

The voting is supposed to be based on the number of text messages each participate receives around their performances Wednesday.  Arias used a minute of his weekly radio show at 7 p.m. Sunday to lobby for more votes. He gave the text message telephone number,  4357, and said callers should type in the name María. Each message costs 400 colons (73 U.S. cents) plus tax. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications company, chimed in over the weekend to say that the telephone system could handle a flood of messages.

Margarita Henríquez of Panamá is the other finalist.

Arias has been suffering a decline in public opinion polls, so his linking himself with the successful singer is not totally altruistic. For the same reason victorious athletic teams are invited to the U.S. White House.

Six murder cases in trial courts have teenagers as defendants
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drugs, alcohol, gang ties and domestic violence are contributing factors in the cases that bring six teens into court as defendants in murders.

A tribunal resolved one case last week when the three judges found a 19-year-old man with the last names of Baltizon Montenegro guilty of murder and sentenced him to 40 years. That was in Puntarenas where Reinier Galagarza López, the accused's brother-in-law, died May 31, 2007.

Prosecutors said that Galagarza and his father confronted  Baltizon at his home because their sister, his wife, claimed to have been mistreated. The victim took four bullets in the stomach.

Three trials involving juvenile murder defendants are underway. In one, a man now 18 is accused of killing Enrique Bermúdez Peñaranda last March 26 by tying him up and throwing him off a slope onto highway pavement near the Zurquí tunnel.

Prosecutors say the dispute was over drugs.
Another youth, now 17 is standing trial in the Nov. 23, 2004, murder of César Augusto Anderson Miranda outside a bar in Llano de Higuito de Desamparados. The assault led to gunfire that killed the victim and injured a friend.

Prosecutors blame a fight between members of rival gangs for the death of Juan Javier Mc Coy Green last Feb. 4 in Paso Ancho. The murder appears to have followed a gang fight in a park in Las Gradas de Cristo Rey.

Wednesday another man, now 18 will go on trial for murder in the death of Randy Vargas Alfaro, 26, a soft drink delivery man. The accused is a suspect in the stickup of a delivery truck in Lomas del Rios Pavas. During the robbery Vargas was shot in the head and died several days later in Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Thursday a 16-year-old goes on trial for the murder of Esteban Fernando Ramírez Torres, 20, who died last Nov. 24 in Los Cuadros de Purral. The victim, a mechanic, was attacked and knifed in the leg when returning from a date with his girlfriend. The knife attack severed a main artery, and the man died a short time later at Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Undercover police recover teen who was reported abducted from Orotina home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two undercover police officers watched a couple walking near the Catedral Metropolitana Friday and became suspicious. The older man was with a much younger woman.

When police approached, the women, later found to be 14, begged for help. The officers, both members of the Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas, heard the girl
tell them that the man had brought her from Orotina without her consent. They checked and found that the man, identified by the last names of Monge Ureña, was listed as a suspect in an abduction case and arrested him, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The abduction appears to have happened a few days earlier. The girl's mother was reported to be en route to San José  from Orotina to be with her daughter.

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Dollarized Ecuador considers the impact and alternatives
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. financial problems are affecting economies around the world, especially Ecuador which uses the U.S. dollar as its national currency. In Quito, the economic crisis is sparking debate on whether or not to continue the dollarization program.

U.S. dollars have flowed freely in Ecuador since the Quito government in 2000 stopped circulating the sucre in an effort to stem rampant inflation. Since then, reaction to the decision has been mixed. But most economists agree that dollarization has brought stability to Ecuador's economy, allowing for greater investment and business opportunities. Panamá, El Salvador and several other nations have pursued dollar programs as well.

Now however, some business and political leaders are reassessing the decision as the ripple effects from the United States spread around the world.

Pablo Davalos, economist at the Catholic University of Ecuador, said the dollar economy means Ecuador's Central Bank has few tools to protect itself from the widening crisis.

He said international economic problems often spread, but Ecuador is more vulnerable because it has no monetary policy. He said Ecuador's dollar-economy allows U.S. problems to spread directly to Ecuador.

Davalos said U.S. problems have weakened the value of the dollar around the world, leading to inflation inside Ecuador. Already this year, Ecuadorian officials report domestic prices have jumped more than 8 percent.

In Quito, market owner Jose Rivadeneira says many consumers are complaining about rising prices for food and other goods. He says inflation is apparent at the market, because prices often go up with every new shipment he receives.

Experts say price hikes also are a result of economic and
political concerns inside Ecuador, such as a recent referendum to approve a new constitution.

Department store owner Jose Cueva says a slight downturn at his business is a result of domestic factors.

Cueva said domestic policy mistakes and not U.S. troubles are the cause of rising prices, but he said the latest round of bank failures in the United States will eventually hit Ecuador.

In recent months, President Rafael Correa has criticized the adoption of the dollar economy, saying it hobbles future economic growth in the Andean nation. Some opposition leaders have expressed fear the president may abandon the current system, but Correa has ruled out making any such changes so far.

One positive note in the current economy is that a weaker U.S. dollar has made some Ecuadorian exports more attractive to foreign buyers, especially in Europe. John Price, managing director of Kroll consulting in Miami, said shrimp and banana exporters based in the coastal city of Guayaquil stand to benefit.

"The folks in Guayaquil were not happy with the dollarization. However, we live in a world of a weak dollar and those folks are reasonably happy with their level of competitiveness."

Price said many exporters and other business leaders would oppose an end to the dollar economy, if Quito's government decided to launch its own currency.

Economist Davalos in Quito said the government is unlikely to move in that direction, because the political risks are too great. He said the government may criticize the dollar economy, but right now the president must defend the program to ensure his own political stability.

Davalos said the government could be forced to change that position in coming months, however, if the fallout from the U.S. crisis continues to hurt Ecuador's economy.

Bolivia's Morales and opposition leaders renew talks aimed at reducing conflicts
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian President Evo Morales and a group of opposition governors have resumed talks aimed at easing a political crisis that has triggered deadly protests.
Morales and four pro-autonomy regional governors met in the central province of Cochabamba Sunday, nearly two weeks after they postponed the talks.

The conflict between Morales and governors demanding more autonomy erupted into street violence last month, in which at least 15 government supporters were killed.  President Morales has struggled to reassert his authority  over the northern province of Pando and several regions in the country's east.
Morales's plans to rewrite the constitution, redistribute land to the poor and give them more political power has sparked several anti-government demonstrations.

Last month, President Morales criticized the United States for backing opponents he charges are trying to organize a coup against his leftist government. Morales issued the criticism in an address before the United Nations General Assembly.

The comments followed Morales' decision to expel U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, after accusing him of siding with opposition leaders in Bolivia. 

The U.S. denied the accusation and responded by expelling Bolivia's envoy, Gustavo Guzmán.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


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Concern voiced at U. N.
over murder as censorship

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international Human Rights Organization, Article 19, says the ability of journalists to exercise their profession and their freedom of expression is increasingly under threat. The group, which promotes and defends freedom of opinion and expression, was a participant in a two-day United Nations seminar, which dealt with the linkages between Freedom of Expression and Religious Freedom.

The human rights group said for the past five to seven years the global trend for press freedom has been very negative. And, in many places, it says journalists themselves increasingly have come under attack.

The executive director of Article 19, Agnes Callamard, says in the past, journalists may have been wounded or killed while coming under fire in a war zone. But, now, she says they are individually and deliberately targeted.

"It is certainly the case in areas of conflict, such as Iraq, which has seen the highest number of journalists killed," she said. "And, in places of low-intensity conflict such as the Philippines. However, it is also increasingly the case in countries which are supposedly democratic and at peace, or at least on the way towards democracy and peace and particularly a place like Mexico." 

Ms. Callamard says some governments may be behind the killing of journalists. But, she says journalists also have become fair game for divergent groups, such as the Mafia, drug cartels or armed rebels.

In its latest report, an advocacy group, the Press Emblem Campaign, says 71 journalists have been killed this year compared with 91 during the same period in 2007. It says eight journalists were killed in September. They include four in Iraq and one each in Dagestan, Georgia, Mexico and Thailand.

Last year, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on the protection of journalists in situations of conflict. Unfortunately, Ms. Callamard says terms of the resolution are not being implemented.

She says it is critical to tackle the problem of impunity in Mexico as well as in other countries around the world.

"All crimes against journalists, at least in Mexico, and unfortunately across the world — I think the rate is something like 90 percent — none of them have ended up with anyone being indicted or prosecuted or indeed imprisoned or whatever," she said. "So, the key problem in Mexico and other parts of the world is impunity for crimes committed against journalists." 

Ms. Callamard says her organization, Article 19, has several recommendations for protecting journalists under threat. One of the most important, she says, is to set up an early warning system. She said journalists who feel threatened should be immediately taken out of the area to a safe house or even out of the country.

Jo Stuart
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