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(506) 223-1327             Published Friday, Oct. 12, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 203        E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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flooding in Parrita
A.M. Costa Rica/David K. Treadway
Parrita youngsters play in the flooded roadway.
The third day of heavy rain proves to be a killer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The third day of continual rain brought death and disaster to the nation, beginning with a landslide in Atenas that killed two people and left 14 missing.

The central Pacific coast was flooded. The national emergency commission said that 800 homes were flooded and that 400 persons, including more than 100 children, were in shelters.

The bad news is that more rain is on the way. Weather experts said that a tropical wave is due to hit Costa Rica Saturday. The current problem came from a strong low pressure area that stalled over the Yucatan Peninsula of México and sent heavy rains swirling south.

The hardest hit areas were Parrita, Garabito, Puntarenas centro and, of course, Atenas, which is inland. The slide in Fátima de Atenas came about 1 a.m. and swept away at least seven homes. Two bodies were recovered as was a youngster who still was alive. Some of the dead were agricultural workers living in the corrugated steel structures temporarily.

Cruz Roja workers, firemen and Fuerza Pública officers worked with rescue commission experts to find the victims, but they were hampered by continual rain and, at times, darkness.

The exact number of missing is not known. Rescue dogs were called in.

In the La Julieta section of Parrita on the Central Pacific coast an estimated 400 homes were flooded. In Barranca, Puntarenas, 350 more were listed as flooded. The emergency commission issued a red alert for the central Pacific coast which allows officials to have more flexibility in contracting for heavy machinery and other necessary items.

The rest of the country was under a warning alert.

Parrita residents awoke to knee deep water running through their property Thursday.  Local officials scrambled to evacuate dozens of homes in the path of rising water.  By 2 p.m. the water had receded some even though the rain continued to fall throughout the day.  The rain even though steady, was light for the rest of the day allowing people to get back into their homes and clean up.

The Río Parrita nearly crested over the street level of the single-lane bridge there on the main highway south of town.  The water got to within just a few feet of the pedestrian walkway and road
level almost causing the bridge to be closed to
pedestrian walkway
A.M. Costa Rica/David K. Treadway
River water and the trash it carries almost reach the level of the one-lane bridge's walkway.

 traffic.  Local officials stood watch on both sides of the bridge to make sure the water levels did not begin to rise again. 
A new, modern, two-lane bridge is under construction over this stretch of the Río Parrita.  Construction has been stalled since the rainy season started and is expected to start back up in late November or early December.  For now though the old and deteriorating one-lane metal bridge is the only way to cross the river. One direction of traffic waits sometimes up to 30 minutes for a break in oncoming traffic.

The Parrita office of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad was ankle deep in water right up to the front doors and the street fronting the office was sitting in about 6 inches of water. Of course local kids took advantage of what they considered new play areas created just for them by Mother Nature.

Paulo Manso, director of the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional, said that the intense rain dumped 50 percent of the monthly October average in just two days. He noted that October usually is the month with the most rain. The area around Parrita and nearby Quepos receves more rain than the national average.

Rains were supposed to continue into Friday but then partial clearning is predicted for the rest of the day. Manso and others urged residents to be watchful because of the condition of the soil and the possibility of more flooding.

(David K. Treadway contributed to this report.)

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 203

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Culture day not a holiday,
but Monday will be one

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the Día de las Culturas in Costa Rica. It's called Columbus Day in the United States, where the celebration is controversial.

However, today is not the legal holiday here. That has been moved to Monday. The United States celebrated the day last Monday.

Among other events, a delegation of children from Quitirrisí de Mora will be visiting the Museo del Oro Precolombino, one of the museums of the Banco Central, this morning. The youngsters are predominately Hüetar Indians better known for their fine baskets of vegetable fibers. But the museum will be showing them one of the world's great collections of pre-Columbian gold artifacts that is housed under the Plaza de la Cultura.

The trip is supported by Procter & Gamble Co. and the museums.  Quitirrisí is between Ciudad Colón and Puriscal.

Indian activist groups in the United States have demonstrated against Columbus Day celebrations there and have clashed with Italians who claim the 15th century explorer as their own.

In Costa Rica, the holiday has been renamed the day of the cultures to honor all the groups that make up the Tico population.

The U.S. Embassy has announced that it will be closed Monday, as it was last Monday. Other diplomatic missions also are expected to be closed.

Teen faces four counts
of premeditated murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17-year-old facing four counts of murder has been ordered held for two months while the investigation takes place. The order came from the Juzgado Penal Juvenil.

The Poder Judicial noted that juveniles can only be held for two months, according to the law.

The youth also is suspected of robberies.

The Judicial Investigating Organization detained him Wednesday and said they had linked him with the shooting deaths of a salesman, two taxi drivers and a neighbor. All this took place in the los Cuadros section of Guadalupe.

When the youth was detained also held was a 20-year-old woman. Investigators said that she helped locate victims for the youth. She would hail a taxi and ask to be driven to a place where her younger friend would rob the driver, agents said.

Invstigators said that they confiscated some handguns when they detained the youth. The maximum penalty for juveniles is six years, but the nature of the crimes might promote the case into adult court.

The first murder took place March 27, 2004, and involved a taxi driver with the last name of Bravo. Three more murders took place on different days in January.

Organic agricultural fair
is under way in Upala

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An agricultural fair started Thursday in Upala and will run through Saturday. It is an exhibition of produce and the sale of organic foodstuffs. The event is called Fiesta Agroecológica. Also attending are northern zone neighbors from Guatuso and Caño Negro.

The location is the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Upala and is sponsored by the Movimiento de Agricultura Orgánica Costarricense.

One product that will be for sale is organic cacao, which is a specialty of the zone. There also will be the usual festival events, including folkloric dancing, a horse parade, a rodeo and a dance.

Nation's hopes for U.N. seat
will be determined Tuesday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's bid for a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council will come to a vote Tuesday in New York.

There is competition for the seat, which is reserved for Latin nations. The Dominican Republic also has expressed interest.

Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the foreign minister, reported Thursday that he has had 74 meetings with representatives of various nations promoting Costa Rica as the choice.

Costa Rica, a founder of the United Nations, has served as the Latin representative twice before, in 1974 to 1975 and 1997 to 1998. The country lost its bid in 1980.

Membership on the council will allow the country's representatives to promote the international programs of President Óscar Arias Sánchez, including his initiative to encourage developed nations to give money to developing lands that do not invest heavily in weaponry.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 203

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These stores have great selections and red hot deals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some of the best selections of cameras, computers and other electronic gear will not be found at the malls or even at big box stores where expats and upscale Costa Ricans go.

Digitals, film cameras, nearly new portable computers, you name it. All can be found at the local pawn shops. But don't ask for an owner's manual or a guarantee.

Much of the merchandise has been imported recently from the United States or Europe — the cameras around the necks of tourists and the computers in their luggage.

These are the stores where the thieves and robbers go to dump their loot for pennies on the dollar. A lot of Costa Ricans who are short on cash also use the services of the pawn shops, casas de empeño, so determining which merchandise is hot is difficult.

Still, a new Nikon camera, in the bag with assorted lenses probably was not dropped off by a Costa Rican factory employee.

Thursday the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Policía Municipal of San José paid a call on a couple of such shops. The operators had some difficult in coming up with invoices and similar documentation for the
confiscated merchandise
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Agent checks out some of the confiscated merchandise

products they were offering for sale.

Investigators ended up confiscating portable computers and wide-screen monitors as well as other items that looked like they came in through the back door.

The Judicial Investigating Organization encouraged anyone who lost a computer to thieves recently to contact them.

Professor gets ministry job that was vacated by Kevin Casas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A political science professor from the University de Costa Rica will take over as minister of Planificación, President Óscar Arias Sánchez said Thursday.

The man, Roberto Gallardo, replaces Kevin Casas, the former second vice president of the country who also held
the ministry post. Casas resigned under fire during the campaign for the free trade treaty.

Gallardo served eight years as an adviser to the rector or head of the university. Arias characterized him as an intellectual. One major project for the ministry is the digital government initiative that was being directed and promoted by Casas.

Knowing always is better when it comes to health care
In spite of Katie Couric’s efforts to enlighten and warn us, including her own televised colonoscopy showing how easy it is, I have avoided getting the exam myself.  It started with symptoms that suggested it would be a good idea.  Then a couple of visits to the doctor’s and to the hospital confirmed that it would be a very good idea. 

The Caja doctor even gave me a referral for the examination (which only meant I could go to the department at Hospital Mexico to make an appointment). 

Figuring it would probably be at least a month before I would be able to schedule the appointment, I didn’t bother.  The wait is not unusual.  When I was in the States in 2000 I tried to get an appointment for a colonoscopy through my HMO.  They said first I would have to see a couple of doctors who would determine if it was necessary. 

So I returned to Costa Rica, made an appointment with a private clinic (which I suppose I could have done in the States, but not for the price of about $120) and three days later had my exam and was told everything was normal. 

But even with this positive experience, after rejecting the Caja possibility, I proceeded to drag my feet for another month. I really didn’t want to know — not yet. I chose ignorance.  During this time I was not feeling either good or well.  Life was a drag. 

Finally, last week I made the appointment with what I thought was the same department and doctor who had done my last colonoscopy.  This time it was, much to my surprise, at the Clinica Biblica, on the second floor.  I don’t remember going there. 

I was told I had to come in beforehand for the medication that I must take for a full day before the exam. 

I was surprised when they handed me two packets of powder and didn’t charge me.  When I had the first exam, I had bought my own stuff. It is the day previous to the exam that is difficult, when you cannot eat and must take every means possible to clean out your insides. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

 My joy over the prescribed powders was short-lived.  I was supposed to mix the powders with a gallon of water and drink all of it the day before.  No easy task for me who sips water as if it were wine (one of my problems). So I started the night before the day of liquids.  The water tasted like salt water.  I tried it hot, at room temperature and ice cold.  Adding lemon juice helped — a little.  But I did it.

Instead of Dr. William Perez Martinez, my doctor this time was Doctora Marcela Porras, who was just as solicitous.  First the assistant nurse had to find the vein in my hand for the fluid that would put me to sleep.  Once again I have found that the nurses in the Caja are better with needles and finding veins than any others I have encountered.  This time it took a few tries.  The next thing I knew, the nurse was waking me from a very nice nap to tell me that it was over, and that as soon as I felt able to get up, I should do so. 

Paying for the experience was not quite as pleasant.  The colonoscopy cost 123,640 colons ($238) with 5 percent discount, either for my ciudadano de oro or cash.  The surprise was the added 17,500 colons ($33.65) for those powders and the “preparation.”  All in all, considerably more expensive than the last time.  But then, the cost of living has gone up considerably in the past seven years. 

The best part of this whole experience is that although I did not get a totally “clean bill of health,” now I can do something about it.  And it was not the cancer that I feared (and many of us do).  But what is amazing, is the relief I feel. My energy has returned and I am light-hearted and happy again.  Which, of course, is why I am writing this — for all of you who have been putting off that important examination.  Knowing is better.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 203

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Our readers give their opinions on living here and treaty
Please enforce the laws,
Miami reader urges Arias

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am married to a Tica and have visited Costa Rica many times over the past decade. During that period, I have never experienced any violent crimes or thefts.

However, I realize from discussions with relatives that the ongoing infiltration of Colombian narco-terrorists, Central American gangs like MS 13 and Sur 13, ineffective policing, and outdated laws have conributed to a hightened sense of fear in the country. Many of these ills reflect poorly on the Pacheco administration and its "magical realism" perspective of what was afflicting Costa Rican society.

Now the infiltration of Chavistas and their anti-democratic subversions place Costa Rica's evolving identity in grave peril.

Protect democracy; enforce the law; lock up criminals; defeat the pervasive poverty with new visions; place citizens before drug profiteers.

Make Arias look inward and crush the plague of drugs, poverty, ineffective government, and corruption.

Peter Monck
Miami, Florida

Costa Rica is still safer
than Denver, Colorado

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am of course sorry about the Denver couple who got robbed and burglarized in Costa Rica. Very bad luck. But I sure hope they are also planning to sound the alarm about crime in Denver. After all, in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the DCCSDR, Denver experienced almost 40,000 reported violent and property crimes, or about 7 per 100 men, women and children.

That means that on any given year, an adult’s of being robbed or assaulted in Denver, one of the U.S.’s safest cities, are better than 1 in 10 (since small children and babies should be discounted). The point is that crime happens everywhere. And the fact remains that it is far
safer to live here in Costa Rica than in any major city
in the U.S.

Tim Woodruff
Dominical Beach

His Costa Rican experience
was not what he expected

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading the A.M. Costa Rica daily for over a year now.  My only regret is that I did not start reading it sooner.

I say that because I, like many other foreigners who at some point in their lives sought to try to make a life in Costa Rica, could have benefitted greatly from the honest, straightforward, in-your-face type of reporting you provide.

I met my Tica wife in the United States in 1998.  She was there on a tourist visa trying to improve her English.  Being a practicing immigration attorney and not wishing to violate the dual-intent doctrine, I eventually sent her back to Costa Rica to await the processing of a fiancé visa.  In 2001, she entered the U.S. on her fiancé visa and we were married in May of that year.

Our oldest son was born in late 2002.  Our second was born in early 2006.

Between 1998 and 2006, I endured my wife’s perpetual homesickness, depression, and endless complaints about how much she missed Costa Rica and her family.  I thought the solution to this problem was to move my family to Costa Rica and raise my children there. So in May of 2006, we did exactly that, much to my regret.

Between May of 2006 and June of 2007, when we returned to the United States, I experienced all the horrors of life in Costa Rica that your articles and letters to the editor have described.  I observed and was the victim of fraud, theft and deception, including being robbed at gunpoint.

I grimaced at the sight of dog feces and garbage all over the streets and sidewalks.  I shuddered at the sight of fathers teaching their young children how to relieve themselves in public.  I endured the lack of hot water, soap, toilet paper, paper towels or hand dryers, and even the lack of toilet seats in the filthy restrooms, on those rare occasions when I could actually find a public restroom.

I smelled the rancid odor of the clothes people wore on the buses on their way to work in the morning, an odor that cold-water clothes washing simply cannot remove.

I suffered through the blackouts and water outages.

I patiently tolerated the incompetence of my lawyer and the supposedly skilled craftsman like the three different so-called electricians I hired to re-wire the fire trap where we lived, one of which did not know to ground a 220 line, nearly killing me.

But most sadly of all, I endured repeatedly hearing the racist term “gringo.”  Make no mistake about it — when Ticos use this word, they use it with the same force and meaning that the “N-word” is used in the United States.

Yes, I wish I would have started reading your pages sooner.  I might have never moved to Costa Rica.

I appreciate greatly that you have the courage to report Costa Rican news so honestly.

Timothy P. Sullivan
Attorney at Law
Lincoln, Nebraska
Writer defends the views
of trade treaty critic

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like the opportunity to comment on some of the responses to Steven A. Roman's letter describing a post-CAFTA Costa Rica.  I’ll preface my remarks by noting my continual amazement at how reality can be conveniently discarded or ignored if it fails to conform to one’s faith-based position in a debate.

Take, as an example, Don Chaput’s questioning how competition in telecommunications will create higher prices.  How?  In the same way that the U.S. Telecommunications Act passed in 1996, promised by Congress to stimulate competition for cable service and lower prices in the U.S., actually increased cable rates more than 90 percent since 1995.  Let him tell me how that happened instead of assuming competition always lowers prices.  The deregulated energy industry certainly didn’t do much for California several years ago, did it?

As for his reference to Mr. Roman’s lack of understanding of Economics 101, allow me to provide him with a few lessons taken directly from the course book.

Every can of duty-free Del Monte corn entering Costa Rica from the U.S. takes market share away from local canners of corn.  This is an advantage for the wealthy who will pay less for their imported goods but of no value to the poor who can’t even afford locally produced cans of corn.

The bulk of lower end manufacturing jobs from the U.S., which require only moderate skills, will go to countries where the wage base is economically cost-attractive to the investor, unless that investor wants to deal with unhappy stockholders wondering why the company wasn’t trying to maximize profits.  That country is not Costa Rica.  At the same time, the majority of off-shore jobs from the U.S. will continue to go to China where wages are even lower.  In the end, it’s all about profit and nothing more.

Illegal immigration into Costa Rica will increase as long as its wage base remains higher than the wage base of its neighbors.  This is what happened when displaced post-NAFTA Mexican farm workers began flooding across the border to the U.S., resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of illegal aliens residing in the U.S. and initiating one of the most divisive social debates America has experienced in many years.

AT&T will not enter the Costa Rica telecommunications market on the promise of $7/month cell phone charges and even lower land line charges.  It makes no economic sense for them to do so.  They have something else in mind.

Mr. Chaput also doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a pharmaceutical company’s existing patent rights and an arbitrary extension of those rights after the fact in order to increase profits.  Its initial patent coverage is designed to protect the company’s original investment.  And if Mr. Chaput has actually understood what Mr. Roman had written, he would know that Mr. Roman said nothing about raising prices on all medications.  What he said was that extending patent rights delays the introduction of generics, which means the average price for all drugs will be higher.  Additionally, the latest drugs will be unavailable for a longer time, a problem for patients who can’t afford brand name prices but would benefit from the advances in pharmaceutical research.

Concerning Mr. Chaput’s assertion that Costa Rica simply can back out of CAFTA, perhaps he should take the time to read the text of the agreement.  One of the key provisions allows investors to sue if the country undertakes any action that would limit its profits.  That action can include passing environmental or labour laws detrimental to the investor (even if beneficial to the people), as well as any action to withdraw from the agreement after an investor has made a commitment.  This has been tested many times under NAFTA and the plaintiff almost always wins.  There will be no backing out unless the country is prepared to pay millions upon millions of dollars in lost legal suits.

Mr. K. Westmoreland argues that Costa Rica should go along with the treaty because it has been accepted by the rest of Central America and Costa Rica should not expect preferential treatment.  That is a false statement.  Panamá is not part of CAFTA and has negotiated a separate free trade agreement with the U.S.  I think the economic disparity between Costa Rica and its Central American CAFTA trading partners is at least as great as that between Panamá and those same countries.  Why shouldn’t Costa Rica have the same opportunity as Panamá?

Mr. Westmoreland refers to lower unemployment in Mexico since 1980.  I’m not sure what this has to do with the discussion, since NAFTA wasn’t implemented until 1994.  Nevertheless, the CIA World Fact book shows an increase in Mexican unemployment between 2003 and 2007 in addition to about 25 percent underemployment in the country.  Once again, jobs that might have gone to Mexico have gone instead to China.

As for Canada’s economy, the value of the Canadian dollar in relation to the American dollar is not a measure of economic strength.  If it were, then one would have to conclude that the American economy is in a terrible state.  Yet President Bush and his economic team maintain that the U.S. economy is strong and growing vigorously.  Which is it?  Meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has recently published a report indicating that the average Canadian worker’s income has increased 15 percent since 1998 while the CPI has increased by almost 18 percent.  That, by any definition, is a decrease in real income.

In any case, without belaboring the point, CAFTA is not free trade in the way we understand the term.  None other than the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman (no relation!), the poster boy for Neoliberal economic policy, was a strong opponent of NAFTA.  He argued that NAFTA is government managed trade, not “free trade,” and results in an erosion of national sovereignty by binding citizens and governments to decisions made by an unelected international body.  I’ll take him at his word.

Shakespeare wrote, “what is past is prologue” and Santayana wrote, “Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.”  Wise men, both.

Steve Friedman
Rio Oro de Santa Ana

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