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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 204       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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An analysis
Even presidents get blindsided by nit-picky culture

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Every expat businessman and developer can identify with the nation's president and his brother, who are now complaining about the obstacles confronted by those who would move the nation ahead.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez used his television show Sunday to again complain about those people who put legal obstacles in the path of projects backed by the administration.

His brother, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, was saying the same thing in a talk in Heredia Sunday.

How is it that lawmakers have spent four years debating the free trade treaty even after the public has voted for the agreement in a special referendum, asked Rodrigo Arias, who is the minister of the Presidencia.

Óscar Arias seemed more irked in his television broadcast by the handful of individuals who have appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court to stop the construction of a new soccer stadium at the northwest corner of Parque la Sabana.

The opponents are unhappy at the possible traffic jams such a stadium would bring. It would be three times as large as the 30-year-old structure that was demolished, and even now there is no real parking for stadium visitors. The opponents also report that a law exists prohibiting new construction at the park.

The Arias brothers also are vexed that bus operators have sued to prevent the creation of a series of new bus routes.

The administration had to go hat in hand to the other signatory nations of the free trade treaty to seek another extension because the Sala IV constitutional court found that a single element of the final piece implementing legislation for the treaty was unconstitutional. Opponents of the treaty promise to refer the revised version of the bill back to the Sala IV once it is passed. What was lacking in the original bill was consultation with native groups, something an international treaty requires the government to do in certain cases.

The Arias brothers also probably are unhappy that a number of their legislative proposals have gone nowhere for the last two and a half years. They are likely to continue in limbo at the Asamblea Legislativa.

There is a revision of the immigration law, proposals for new taxes and the much touted citizen security measures. Reasonable persons may disagree with the content of these bills, but Arias and his Partido Liberación Nacional maintain a two-thirds majority in the one-house assembly.

That should be enough to pass anything.

But as those who do business here know, there is always another tramite, another procedure, another permit, another piece of paper.

Despite approvals, an activist Sala IV is ready to step in. Costa Ricans more and more are using the constitutional court as a routine element. Many expats with paperwork hung up in the Dirección General de Migración have filed an amparo, a request for help from the Sala IV.

The reports of court decisions are full of such requests, ranging from immigration matters to medical procedures to needs for prescription medicine to whether a child should attend religious classes in a private school.
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Progress can be a real maze

Arias, himself, has pointed out that a plan for a new facility at the Caldera docks has been held up for a year by a Sala IV appeal. The appeal was by workers there.

Many a construction project has been frozen by court action. Some cases have been justified because developers and public officials have connived to do something incorrect.

Opponents may find that a commercial center endangers a nearby water source and appeal. A water line to Pacific condo projects has been frozen for months by technical appeals. A gasoline station in Nosara is the target of another appeal. Approvals for these projects probably should have been disputed and adjudicated long before construction took place and significant investments made.

Even criminal cases in Costa Rica are not final when the judges deliver the verdict. A trial court conviction can be appealed here as in most countries by the defendant. But a trial court acquittal can be appealed by the prosecution. This means that an acquitted defendant might end up being haled back into the dock again in a year or more.

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativa continues to make sweeps through the area where it cracks down on shoddy development projects that have violated environmental norms. But some of the projects have received approval correctly and are simply victims of a review by another pair of eyes.

Some government agencies are masters at coming up with back bills no one knew about. Even a statement from a municipality about taxes being paid has to be weighed carefully.

The common law concept of estoppel that prevents governments from going back on their words does not seem to exist in Costa Rica. And because the legal framework is based on written documents interpreted literally, the law of unintended consequences rules.

So there may well be a law prohibiting construction at Parque La Sabana. The question is will it be enforced. Hundreds of laws are not enforced until it would be to someone's advantage to do so. Of course, arbitrary enforcement of the law is an open door to corruption and bribery.

Even the president and the minister of the Presidencia are finding out that they can be blindsided by an overly complex and unforgiving legal system.

Of course, they are in a position to do something about it.

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Orson Welles' masterpiece
gets free showing tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry is hosting a free showing of "Citizen Kane" today at 6 p.m. in San José.

The work by Orson Welles is widely considered to be the best film ever. It tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a fictional version of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst, whose name lives on with his newspaper chain, so hated the film that he helped to derail Welles' career. Hearst threatened movie house owners with newspaper advertising boycotts if they showed the film.

The 1941 film got nine academy award nominations and won the prize for best screenplay.

Welles is probably better known for his Oct. 30, 1938, radio production of "War of the Worlds" or for his wine commercials as a portly connoisseur later in life: "We shall drink no wine before its time."

The version of Charles Foster Kane created by Welles is really a composite of Hearst and other well-known businessmen of the time and of Welles himself. The movie begins and ends with the death of Kane and his fixation on the work "Rosebud."

The film did not really find solid appreciation until its revival in the 1950s.  The work was over the heads of many 1940s viewers and subject to a barrage of criticism from Hearst columnists.

The movie is being shown at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, the ministry building, just east of Parque España at 6 p.m.

Five facing verdict today
in beating death of thief

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than a year ago residents in a section of Alajuelita caught a man ransacking a vehicle. They beat the thief to death literally.

Now five persons will hear today if they will be jailed. Their trial started Sept. 22. in the Tribunal de Juicio de Hatillo. But for security reasons, the Poder Judicial said that the verdict would be given in a courtroom in San José.

Dead is Ricardo Martínez Cedeño. He was stealing May 27, 2007, from a car owned by a man with the last names of Quirós Sánchez. He suffered multiple fatal injures from the beating.

In addition to the vehicle owner, other suspects have the last names of Mayorga Guadamuz, two brothers with the last name of Ledesma and a woman with the last names of Arias Torres

monastery chorus
The Chorus of the Monastery of Sretensky

Famous Russian chorus plans
Teatro Nacional performance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Russian Chorus of the Monastery of Sretensky will perform Oct. 21 at the Teatro National at 8 p.m.

The performance is sponsored by the Orthodox Church here, the Russian ministry of culture and the Costa Rican Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The 41 voices will present a mix of religious and traditional Russian vocal music.

The critically acclaimed group has performed in places such as Notre Dame in Paris and the Vatican.

Police short-circuit plan
to hijack electronics truck

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of hijackers targeted a truck loaded with portable computers and flat-screen televisions Monday in Alajuela centro. What they did not count on is that the truck was under observation by another employee of the same company.

The bandits forced the driver to get out of the vehicle and then they made off with the truck while another member of the gang made off with the driver.

Police got the alert about noon and quickly located the truck being unloaded in the Caro Quintero section of the city. There four persons including the homeowner were detained. The second driver had followed them.

The Fuerza Pública said they were not aware of the whereabout of the truck's original driver.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 204

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Nation weathers another spate of flooding and evictions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three low pressure areas which carry unstable weather are lined from Costa Rica into the Atlantic. One system that had been north of Venezuela was directly over the north and east parts of Costa Rica early today.

Another tropical depression, called Fifteen, was north of the Netherlands Antilles early today.  And Tropical Depression Nana still was in the central Atlantic with a course likely to take it to the northwest. Forecasters expect Fifteen and Nana to move to the north.

Meanwhile a lesser storm system approached the country from the west.

Based on the possibilities from these systems, the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias issued its highest alert for Quepos, Parrita, Puntarenas, Siquirres, Desamparados and Cartago. These areas already are experiencing flooding and more rain could cause serious damage.

In Parrita centro and Quepos, for example, hundreds have been evacuated from their homes.

The good news is that the Instituto Meteorológical Nacional is not predicting for today the heavy rains that hit the country over the weekend.

The emergency commission said that a weather system over the Pacific north of the country generated from 70 to 150 mm of rain. That's from 2.75 inches to about 6 inches. So rivers like the Parrita are running full and putting pressure on dikes and bridges.

Meanwhile, transport ministry workmen are trying to open up the Interamericana Sur where some 50 meters, more than 160 feet, of highway was blocked by a slide. The site was near El Jardín at kilometer 111.

In addition, the emergency commission reported that highway 219 to the Irazú volcano was blocked by a slide as was the Acosta-Parrita highway, where there was a washout.

The emergency commission instituted lesser alerts for Guanacaste, the southern zone, Alajuela, Heredia and San José. The bulk of the flooding came from the Río Paquita in Quepos, and the rios Siquirres and Damas in Desamparados, as well as the river in Parrita. The emergency commission also reported the erosion of a dike in Pérez Zeledón.

In Oreamuno de Cartago damage came from a lake that flooded houses in barrios Cipreses and Oratorio.

The emergency commission had shelters open since Sunday night in many locations around the country.

Museum develops a dramatic way to teach history to kids
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an effort to make Costa Rican history come alive for the Youtube generation, the Museo Nacional is now featuring dramatic historical tours of the museum's exhibits, hoping that the interactive field trips will complement what students are learning in the classroom.

However, the tours emphasize some historical events — concerning the country's mestizo population — over others concerning the native and Afro communities.

“It's a didactic journey which emphasizes prominent events, but it's acted out in very little time,” said Jorge Arroyo, writer and director of the theatrical tour. “It doesn't go into the country's social history very deeply.”

Described as “living theater,” the 45-minute tours cater to middle-school students currently studying Costa Rica's long and eventful 19th century in the classroom. Veteran actors Luis Diego Quesado and Moy Arburola, from the La Tea theater group will guide students throughout the museum's exhibits, acting out key historical events from Costa Rica's independence to the beginning of the 20th century.

“The actors play many different characters who each tell a story,” said producer Roberto Zeledón. “For example, the journey starts in the museum's recreation of a colonial home, and there we see a colonial couple going about their daily life. Then we see how the circumstances related to Costa Rica's independence affects them.”

Arroyo, who in collaboration with La Tea theater group has written and directed historical set pieces that have been performed nearly 200 times in different schools,  says characters from a wide range of social classes are represented during the tour. These include a foot soldier in the war of 1856, a colonial-era grandmother, and a fisherman and his wife in Guanacaste. Also featured prominently are more famous personalities, such as heads of state Braulio Carrillo and Jose Rafael de Gallegos, and nationalist artist José María Figueroa.

While the actors do not represent any characters from Costa Rica's native or African populations, Zeledón said the tour acknowledges the country's ethnic diversity.

“Of course there is an emphasis on how Costa Rica is the product of a great racial mixing,” he said. “We address the condition of native peoples at the time. There's commentary about slavery in Cartago. There's commentary about the laborers in Guanacaste, and the conditions that people faced in the war of 1856, but it's very brief.”

Both Zeledón and Arroyo said that the museum intended that the tours focus on Costa Rica's development as a state. Certain historical characters and events were privileged over others, based on a curriculum devised by the Ministerio de Educación Pública. The history of slavery is not a key focus. 

“Historically and geographically, the African population was always a little apart from the formation of the state,” said Zeledón. “This is a project intended to reinforce a curriculum derived from the Ministerio de Educación
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
One major development of the 19th century was the country's railroads designed to haul bananas.

Pública, and so we emphasize the the historical moments important to the emergence of the state. The issue regarding our African heritage is important, but it is not a focus here.”

He added that one of the museum's exhibits, which traces the history of Costa Rica's ethnic and immigrant populations, serves as a launching point for addressing the country's mestizo heritage.

“There's a small folkloric scene featuring traditional costumes and music, so that the students can understand how within Costa Rican popular culture, there's a wide mix of different influences from different ethnicities and cultures,” he said.

Pressure to make the tours both entertaining and informative provided another challenge.

“It's made for an audience that has grown facing a constant bombardment of media — TV, Internet, texting,” said Zeledón. “So they need a certain kind of stimulus in order to fully appreciate history, in order for history to come alive.”

The tour incorporates museum pieces into the narrative, such as the coat of arms from 1848 and paintings of Costa Rica's first several presidents, in order to add to the liveliness, said Arroyo. Using humor, of course, is intended as another draw for the tour's young audience.

“They're funny situations that you can't publish in newspapers,” said Arroyo. “You'd have to see the jokes to get it.”

At one point, the presentation will directly involve a student.

“That always gets a great reaction,” said Arroyo.

The tours, which will run from today to Nov. 14, are free and are limited to 40 students. Teachers can make reservations at 2257-1433 ext. 2216 from Tuesday to Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tours run from Tuesday to Friday, with one leaving at 11 a.m. and another at 1:30 p.m., each lasting 45 minutes.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 204

A full-scale model of a North Atlantic right whale has become the iconic image of the new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Measuring in at 45 feet and 2,300 pounds, the model is not only impressive in size, but in scientific accuracy as an exact replica of Phoenix, an actual whale that exists in the wild today.
wright whale
Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

National Museum's new hall pays tribute to world's oceans
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Water covers more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, yet what's underneath the sea is largely unknown and unexplored. With the opening of $49 million Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., visitors are encouraged to learn more about the past, present and future of this vast ecosystem that is so essential to life on the planet.

While millions of people worldwide live on or near a coast, for most the connection with the ocean stops at the beach. Visitors to the Sant Ocean Hall are immediately immersed into another world, with hues of green and blue reflected from the glass display cases rippling like waves.

Overhead and hanging from the ceiling is Phoenix, an exact replica of a 14-meter-long North American right whale tracked by scientists since her birth off the coast of Georgia in 1987. She's had three calves and was spotted a few weeks ago off the coast of Maine.

Museum Director Cristian Samper says Phoenix is an icon to which people can relate.

"Her name comes from being the 'right' whale to hunt," he says. "And the fact is that there's less than 400 of these whales in the Northeast. So it is a species that is at the brink of extinction, where activities will determine the fate of the species for the future."

Phoenix appears as if she were swimming in the ocean, because projected on huge panels on the walls over the exhibit hall are videos alive with action: sharks, whales, jellyfish, manta rays and schools of colorful, darting fish.

Diving into the past can be pretty scary, too. Witness the 25-million-year-old jawbone with pointy teeth of a great white shark or the nasty looking deep-dwelling giant squid captured by Spanish fishermen in 2005.

"She is the largest, most intact squid specimen anywhere on display, and one of the big challenges is how to display these specimens, because we couldn't have them in thousands of gallons of alcohol with thousands of people around them," said Samper.
Instead, the 7-meter-long female and the smaller male squid are suspended in time in a nontoxic, nonflammable, clear liquid developed especially for Sant Ocean Hall. They make a big impression, Samper observes, as do the other specimens from the museum's marine collection - the largest in the world.

"There are close to 700 different specimens on display — everything from a variety of fish, to jellyfish, to sea stars," Samper says. "So you can come here and get a pretty good feeling for what's life in the ocean."

Visitors are invited to touch fossils, open drawers that hold mounted seabirds or gaze eye-to-eye at a tiny shark in a glass jar. That's why Sally Babylon from Galesville, Maryland, brought her 7-year-old grandson, Elim, who she says already shows a keen interest in the ocean world.

"I just want to pass on to him both my appreciation of the beauty of it and also the care that it takes, that we all have to not pollute and be aware of species that are threatened," Ms. Babylon said.

And there is a lot more to see. A crowd gathers around the 6,000-liter Indo-Pacific reef aquarium that contains dozens of species. Other eyes are riveted on a 2-meter-wide iridescent blue and green rotating globe that represents what the Earth looks like from space. Projected videos and graphics show how the ocean interacts with the land, the atmosphere, the sea floor and humans.

Samper hopes Science-on-a-Sphere and other exhibits help raise awareness about global issues like habitat change, fishery loss, invasive species, pollution and global warming that affect the health of the planet.

"So if you come here, and you walk away saying, 'Wow, this is an incredible place,' then we have done our job and we can help everyone understand that we do live in an ocean planet," he says.

Samper says that connection can begin with a visit to the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. But no matter where someone lives, he or she can dive into the undersea world on the Web at to learn more.

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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.


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New ham radio club plans
to administer U.S. tests

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new amateur radio club plans to administer tests for U.S. licensing in Alajuela Oct. 24. And a club announcement said that licensed amateur radio operators can get Costa Rican licenses through reciprocity. The organization is the recently formed Amistad Amateur Radio Club, a club for expatriate ham radio operators, local English-speaking hams and shortwave

The tests are being administered for U.S. amateur radio licenses under the volunteer examiner program and can be taken to qualify for any new license or upgrade of U.S. ham radio license, including technician, general and amateur extra classes, the announcement said.  To qualify for a U.S. license, an applicant must have U.S. citizenship or legal residence there, a current U.S. address to which the license can be mailed, and pass a multiple-choice examination consisting of a series of questions about U.S. ham radio regulations, technical questions, and questions regarding amateur radio operating practices and procedures, it said.

Those interested should contact the Amistad Amateur Radio Club leadership through Keko Diez, whose call sign is TI5KD, by e-mail at, as soon as possible so that the volunteer examiners will arrive with the requisite materials, the club said. 

On the day of the exam, applicants should arrive at the examination site with both a photocopy and original of their U.S. passport or green card, as well as their U.S. amateur radio license, if they are going for an upgrade, and the examination fee of $14, said the club announcement.  Those who would like to study and take practice examinations can do so online at or at, it added.

The tests are being administered in conjunction with the upcoming club radio contest and will be conducted at the TI5N contest station in La Guacima de Alajuela. This will be the second such examination held in Costa Rica, and is open to all qualified applicants, regardless of their country of residence, the club said.

The club said it can also assist currently licensed U.S. expatriates in obtaining reciprocal operating permission for operation in Costa Rica, adding that those interested should contact Diez.

The Amistad Amateur Radio Club described itself as a loosely organized group of expatriate and English-
speaking local hams who like to get together on the radio and chat, share gossip and trade information, and when possible, assist in radio-related public service projects, including the projects of the Radio Club of Costa Rica.  An informal morning meeting place has been established on 40 meters, following the "Breakfast Club Net" on 7083 Khz. at 7:30 a.m. daily.  On two meter FM, a simplex frequency of 145.77 Mhz. has been established as an English-language monitoring frequency, it said. 

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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