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These stories were published Friday, Oct. 22, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 210
Jo Stuart
About us
Youngsters bearing the brunt of winter virus 
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rainy season in Costa Rica is a time when children are most susceptible to viruses. This year is no exception, and hospitals in Costa Rica are getting larger numbers of young patients than previous years. 

Dr. Jose Pablo Guiterrez, a specialist in child pneumology at the Hospital Nacional de Niños in San José, said "What we are experiencing at the moment is a large number of children who are suffering from a virus which is very similar to influenza A, which tends to last seven days."

The symptoms of the virus vary but the most common are high temperature, sore throat sneezing and tiredness.   "What can be dangerous about the virus is if the child suffers from asthma, if this is the case, then the infection can go to the chest and then cause bronchitis," said Guiterrez 

 Dr. Oscar Castro Armas from the Clinica San Augustin said that vaccinations are being improved every year to help combat the effects of the viruses. "Children have weaker defenses against viruses. Viruses can be passed through close contact. Schools and nurseries are the best places for the viruses to thrive."

Dr. Emilio Guevera from the Hospital Calderón Guardia in San José said that children are not the only ones that suffer.

Reichel Valeria Solorzano Salas, 6, and mother Priscilla Salas Bonilla were at the emergency room of Hospital Calderón Guardia Thursday. 

The girl was suffering from headaches, tiredness and a sore throat. There have been many sleepless nights, the mother said.

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"At this time of year in Costa Rica people who are susceptible to viral infections will suffer. The rainy season or winter here can affect many people," he said.

Guevera also said people who suffer from bronchitis, heart complaints or who have had transplants are most at risk of contracting the virus. 

"We recommend these people get a vaccination against influenza A every six months. This will not completely avoid them contracting the virus, but it will prevent complications."

Sharp jolt of being a stranger in a strange land
Recently I was waiting for the minibus to take me to Guadalupe for my dental appointment. A regular-sized bus stopped instead. I got on and, in lieu of the fare, gave the driver a No. 2 ticket that I get with my ciudadano de oro card. Then I asked if he was going to stop at the Clinica Catolica. He grunted what I assumed was a yes. 

I sat down and after waiting a few minutes with no one else getting on, got up again. Then I asked him when the bus would be leaving. He was eating his lunch out of a plastic container by now and said nothing. So I got off and decided to wait on the bench in the fresh air. 

As I started to get on again I handed him another ticket, knowing that passing through the electronic arch again probably required a ticket. He refused it saying "You can use only one ticket." I got off the bus. I could have simply paid him the fare, but before I could even reach into my purse he said, "Those tickets are for Ticos, not foreigners." 

I don’t know whether I was more crushed or angry. As a legal resident, I have a right to use these tickets. But I could understand his attitude since in his view I am probably another "rich gringa." 

However, understanding how he felt didn’t prevent me from giving him a deceptively sweet smile from the bench and saying something very rude in English. I had never done anything like that before and was shocked at myself. He drove off, and I eventually hailed a taxi.

Recently in the U.S. there has been a lot of talk on the news about what are called either illegal aliens or undocumented immigrants, depending upon one’s sympathy. Every country is faced with the many problems — social, legal, financial and moral — that occur when trying to handle a sizeable number of immigrants, refugees, and sometimes, even tourists. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

People leave their own country for what they hope is a better life in another country. War, economics and politics often motivate these moves. If you are poor or sick and uneducated, you are not welcome, and the citizens in your new country resent you. If you are poor and willing to work for a pittance, many industries and individuals are happy to have you. The citizens still resent you, especially now when jobs are scare.

In Costa Rica it seems that the two major situations that currently exist are the influx of Nicaraguans, legal and not, and the influx of well-off foreigners buying up property and displaying their wealth. Of course, there are the other "usual suspects:" shady characters involved in drugs or financial scams.

I belong to none of these categories. But I am sure that people who come here to retire, become residents and take advantage of the social welfare programs, are also resented. 

What surprised me was how angry I felt at being so rebuffed by an ordinary bus driver. This must happen to people all over the world who have, for one reason or another found themselves a ‘stranger in a strange land.’ My heart goes out to them, and my sympathy goes to both the citizens and lawmakers of the recipient countries of these sometimes-sizeable migrations. 

I would not like to make the choices and laws necessary to render the ‘immigrant problem’ manageable and amenable to all. No wonder neither candidate for president in the United States has more than touched upon this subject.

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Another ex-president
goes to a jail cell

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another ex-president has spent the night behind bars. He is Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the alleged mastermind of a $9 million bribe that trickled down to executives of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Calderón, who was president from 1990 to 1994, showed up at the Tribunales de Justicia in San José to give testimony to prosecutors. He left in handcuffs for a holding cell in the basement of the court building in Goicoechea in northern San José.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to confine the man, but the request was not considered Thursday. Calderón, the former leader of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, faces allegations of bribery, conspiracy and aggravated corruption.

Calderón declined to be questioned by prosecutors Thursday but he did present a statement in which he said he was the victim of lies. He singled out Eliseo Vargas, former executive president of the Caja. Vargas is also a Unidad politician who was one of the first to be tarnished by the scandal last June.

Vargas has decided to cooperate with prosecutors, and Wednesday Calderón blamed the six weeks Vargas had spent in prison as the reason he was lying. Vargas was president of the Asamblea Nacional in December 2002 when a $39 million loan from Finland was hastily approved by deputies. The $9 million has been characterized as a commission from that loan that was paid to Panamá companies managed by  the head of Corporación Fischel, Walter Reiche. 

Reiche, too, is cooperating with investigators.

Only Friday ex-president Miguel Ángel Rodriguez Echeverría was a guest in the same unit of cells in the basement of the Secundo Circuito Judicial de San José. Rodríguez was allowed to enter house arrest the following day, a decision that was criticized by Costa Ricans.

Rodríguez is being investigated for his role in an alleged payoff by Alcatel, the French telecommunications company that won a major contract to provide cellular telephones in 2002.

Two other executives of the Caja are facing possible prison. Prosecutors asked that the two men, Gerardo Bolaños Alpízar and Juan Carlos Sánchez, be jailed for investigation. They are involved with the Finish transaction.

Prosecutors contend that Calderón has been working to hide material facts in the investigation while he was at liberty. Vargas supports this view.

Auto import probe
becomes broader

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A probe into tax-free imports of perhaps as many as 5,000 vehicles widened Thursday as officials said irregularities are being studied in Costa Rican consulates in Florida and California.

The foreign ministry said Wednesday that the Costa Rican consulate in New York was being investigated. Thursday tax officials said the investigation includes South Korean vehicle vendors, Costa Rican notaries and vehicle importers here.

Investigators suspect documents have been falsified. among these are documents showing that the vehicles have met exhaust emissions standards.

The main thrust of the investigation, however, is the evasion of import duties on the vehicles, according to the report from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto Wednesday.

Hydro plant frozen
by water complaints

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An environmental tribunal has blocked work on the La Joya hydroelectric project at Tucurrique because of fears that a tunnel there would damage the source of underground water.

The news was spread via e-mail by the environmental group Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente.

Neighbors of the project have been blocking access to the $77 million project for several days. The hydro plant is being built for the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad by the Spanish firm Unión FENOSA.

The municipal council of Tucurrique acted Oct. 13 to have the project shut even though it has received all the required permits. Residents fear that the tunnel will damage the domestic water supply for the nearby towns. The tunnel is for water that runs the hydroelectric turbines.

Pedestrian shot in legs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man suffered wounds in both legs from shots fired from a car as he was walking in Barrio Cuba, San Jose about 10 p.m. Wednesday, said investigators.

The man, Andy Milton Bonilla, 32, said that he was on the sidewalk heading towards a friend’s house when a car pulled up behind him and occupants shot at his legs. Officials from the Judicial
Investigation Organization are trying to establish the motives behind what a spokesperson said "was a very cruel crime."

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Dim sum is what they call a Chinese smorgasbord
At 8:30 a.m. Sept. 4, Lotus in Escazú launched its dim sum menu. Not  embarrassed to be first when it comes to beloved dim sum, my wife and I ordered nine of their 27 offerings within the first hour and more than  satisfied our craving for Cantonese finger food. 

A few weeks later, we sampled  12 more for a total of 21 of 27 options.  Dim sum literally means small heart, touched heart or dot heart. Figuratively  it describes a tea with small plates containing three or four each of a wide assortment of delicacies. They are steamed in baskets, baked, braised, boiled or broiled dumplings, buns, pancakes, turnovers, gelatins, noodles, veggies, pork, seafood and pieces or parts of chicken, pig or duck. 

The vast dim sum houses of Canton, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Saigon, Singapore, Vancouver, New York City and San Francisco glare lipstick red, gold and often fluorescent blue white. The diners tend to be animated. Women pushing carts of food shout out their wares in high-pitched sing song, one or two different dishes per cart. 

With as many as a hundred different varieties of dim sum, an army of servers zigzag past the tables, trying to appease the grandpa up front who can’t get the attention of the woman in the back hawking duck feet or horse neck clams or the matron who demands the last portion of sliced pig’s ear.  Plates, cups and glasses clink and clatter. The sensory overload has at least two babies crying at all times. 

These food frenzies run from early morning to  early afternoon with lines of hungry people filling sidewalks, numbers clutched in their hands. In stark contrast, Lotus is serene and pristine. From handsome floral carpets to light chartreuse walls adorned with lovely Chinese prints, from soft music to polite waiters, the mood is gentle. The food is authentic, unlike the majority of Chinese restaurants in our country, which court local palates with dinner rolls, gallo pinto and extra sugar. 

With a Chinese population of only 1 percent in Costa Rica, it is a bold gamble to offer even 27  varieties every Saturday and Sunday. The dishes are the most common middle of the roaders. The chef, José Fang, was a professor of culinary arts at a college in  Guangzhou before coming to Costa Rica with his wife, Lili Zhang, who tends the caja, and their children. 

He offers daikon paste studded with pork caramelized on a grill, Cantonese spare ribs, light fluffy meatballs, rice flour crepes filled with chicken, pork or beef, paired with crisp bok choy and lightly sauced, chopped pork and shrimp wrapped in sea weed and topped with  a sauce of egg whites and corn starch, thin pasta triangles filled with crispy minced mushrooms and veggies, aromatic sticky rice steamed in a leaf with bits of meat, shrimp and egg dumplings, steamed barbecued pork buns, baked pastry turnovers stuffed with savory meat, sliced roast pork, open topped pork and shitake mushroom dumplings, tofu skin crepes wrapped around mushrooms, meat and bamboo shoots, minced meat steamed buns  and an assortment of sweet desserts. 

Perhaps it is an acquired taste, but typical rice porridge called jook or congee in Asia and in Chinatowns in the Western World is my favorite morning comfort food. Medium grained rice is boiled in broth for a few hours until it starts to break down into a velvety gruel, white pepper and ginger are frequently added along with the diner’s choice of preserved egg, pork, fish, seafood, chicken

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


or pig parts.  Toppings include a dash of sesame oil, roasted peanuts,  green onion and crispy noodles. 

At times, unsweetened doughnuts are torn into  pieces and mixed with the jook.   At Lotus, the porridge is a little less complex, but smooth and flavorful.  The diner chooses pork, chicken or beef. Crispy noodles and peanuts are the topping and spicy oil and soy grace the table for an optional bolder addition. 

Conveniently, the hearty portion, is not excessive for one person. The steamed rice dough is fluffy, the fried wonton skin crispy, the baked desserts moist, the dumpling skins thin and tender and the fillings savory with traditional flavors.  Presentations are simple and attractive. 

The overall impressions of the fare are conservative, genuine, labor intensive, carefully  prepared and satisfying. The waiters are attentive, replacing cluttered plates with clean ones, replenishing hot tea and ice water and offering assistance.  Lotus is a wise choice for a soothing, enjoyable weekend morning tea brunch and the perfect setting to initiate newcomers to the world of dim sum.  All plates are 1,095 colons including a bowl of jook, so you can feed a group of  any size with adequate variety for about $10 a person. 

Some readers may remember when the plates and steam baskets cost 45 cents apiece in Hong Kong or San Francisco. Reality check says that the fancier venues now charge the same or more than at Lotus. The restaurant is less than 100 meters past Escazu’s Del Centro Comercial  Paco on the same side of the road as it heads toward Santa Ana. Dim Sum is served Saturday and Sunday only, from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

Another choice for dim sum

If you crave five times the chatter, four times the clatter and triple the variety for half the price, the Chinese Association of Costa Rica’s Casa China is your place.  The intoxicating aroma of five spice, garlic, soy, roast pork, steamed chicken and baked buns envelopes the vast space. Star anise steamed  chicken feet, ginger flavored riblets, sliced pig’s ears, garlic chive and shrimp dumplings fill the carts daily along with the standards. 

For the most action and the largest selection go with the crowd on Saturdays from 10 to 3. Restaurant hours are from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and the staff professes to have dim sum at all hours on all days, but if you go with the masses the  ingredients will be fresh and the choices many. The cavernous restaurant with less than pristine de facto decor is on Calle  25 between avenidas 8 and 10 across the street from the towering Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. 

Fidel Castro takes a tumble and breaks his arm and knee 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The Cuban government has confirmed that President Fidel Castro broke his left arm and right knee after falling during a graduation ceremony late Wednesday in the city of Santa Clara.

Video from the televised event showed Castro stumbling as he left the stage after an address to graduating arts instructors. The Cuban leader returned to the microphone to say he was "all in one piece" but might have fractured his knee and arm.

Castro said he preferred to leave in a Jeep rather than an ambulance. But witnesses say he was taken away in a black Mercedes Benz.

The U.S. State Department has refused to wish Castro a speedy recovery. Departmental spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday the United States is more concerned with the welfare of the Cuban people. He suggested to reporters covering the State Department that they check with people in the island nation to — in his words —"find out what's broken about Castro."

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2004 index of countries released
Corruption torpedoes growth, Transparency says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

LONDON, England — "Corruption in large-scale public projects is a daunting obstacle to sustainable development, and results in a major loss of public funds needed for education, healthcare and poverty alleviation, both in developed and developing countries,"said Transparency International Chairman Peter Eigen at the launch of the TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2004. 

"If we hope to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, governments need to seriously tackle corruption in public contracting," said Eigen. Transparency estimates that the amount lost due to bribery in government procurement is at least $400 billion per year worldwide. 

A total of 106 out of 146 countries score less than 5 against a clean score of 10, according to the new index, published this week by Transparency International, the leading non-governmental organisation fighting corruption worldwide. Some 60 countries score less than 3 out of 10, indicating rampant corruption. Corruption is perceived to be most acute in Bangladesh, Haiti, Nigeria, Chad, Myanmar, Azerbaijan and Paraguay, all of which have a score of less than 2. 

"Corruption robs countries of their potential,"said Eigen. "As the Corruption Perceptions Index 2004 shows, oil-rich Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen all have extremely low scores. In these countries, public contracting in the oil sector is plagued by revenues vanishing into the pockets of western oil executives, middlemen and local officials." 

Transparency urged western governments to oblige their oil companies to publish what they pay in fees, royalties and other payments to host governments and state oil companies. "Access to this vital information will minimize opportunities for hiding the payment of kickbacks to secure oil tenders, a practice that has blighted the oil industry in transition and post-war economies," said Eigen. 

 "The future of Iraq depends on transparency in the oil sector,"added Eigen. "The urgent need to fund postwar construction heightens the importance of stringent transparency requirements in all procurement contracts," he continued. "Without strict anti-bribery measures, the reconstruction of Iraq will be wrecked by a wasteful diversion of resources to corrupt elites." 

According to Transparency Vice Chair Rosa Inés Ospina Robledo, "across the globe, international donors and national governments must do more to ensure transparency in public procurement by introducing no-bribery clauses into all major projects." Speaking in Bogota, Colombia, she said: "Tough sanctions are needed against companies caught bribing, including forfeit of the contract and blacklisting from future bidding." 

Tenders should include objective award criteria and public disclosure of the entire process, argues tranparency. Exceptions to open competitive bidding must be kept to a minimum, and explained and recorded, since limited bidding and direct contracting are particularly prone to manipulation and corruption. Public contracting must be monitored by independent oversight agencies and civil society, said the organization.

The Corruption Perceptions Index is a poll of polls, 

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Two demonstrators are critical of Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría during an anti-corrutpion march Oct. 12. They want him jailed.

reflecting the perceptions of business people and country analysts, both resident and non-resident. This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index draws on 18 surveys provided to Transparency International between 2002 and 2004, conducted by 12 independent institutions. 

Countries with a score of higher than 9, with very low levels of perceived corruption, are predominantly rich countries, namely Finland, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. "But the poorest countries, most of which are in the bottom half of the index, are in greatest need of support in fighting corruption,"said Eigen. 

On the basis of data from sources that were used for both the 2003 and 2004 index, since last year an increase in perceived corruption can be observed for Bahrain, Belize, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Oman, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Trinidad and Tobago. 

On the same basis, a fall in corruption was perceived in Austria, Botswana, Czech Republic, El Salvador, France, Gambia, Germany, Jordan, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. 

The index includes only those countries that feature in at least three surveys. As a result, many countries — including some which could be among the most corrupt — are missing because there simply is not enough survey data available. 

The statistical work on the index was coordinated by Johann Graf Lambsdorff at Passau University in Germany, advised by a group of international specialists. 

The Transparency report is available HERE!

Costa Rica inches up on the corruption perception index
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica got a higher score this year in the Transparency International corruption index. The series of surveys used to rate nations placed Costa Rica in 41st place of 146 countries with a score of 4.9  out of a possible 10.

Last year the country was rated at 50th place out of 133 countries with a score of 4.3. In 2001 Costa Rica was ranked 40th of 91 nations with a 4.5 score.

Other nearby countries fared worse:

Country Rank Score
Costa Rica 41 4.9
El Salvador 51 4.2
Panamá 62 3.7
Nicaragua 97 2.7
Honduras 114 2.3
Ironically, Finland was rated No. 1 of the 146 countries with a composite score of 9.7. That means that most residents of that country do not 
think corruption is rampant.

However it was a loan from Finland that has triggered the current series of corruption investigations in Costa Rica.

The surveys used to determine the index were taken one or two years ago, so they do not reflect current conditions. And they measure perception rather than fact. To some extent the measures really are of national self-esteem with First World nations generally reporting less corruption. 

It is in the First World developed nations where corruption is better hidden, more sophisticated and less available to public knowledge. Poorer, less developed nations always are at the bottom of the Transparency indexes. Given poor salaries for public employees and a high public awareness of local corruption and graft, one could suspect that bribes are smaller and more univeral in poor countries.

Countries with a score of higher than 9, with very low levels of perceived corruption, are predominantly rich countries.

The time has come for more stories of spooks and banshees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the local political and financial news are not scary enough for you, we invite you again this year to submit your efforts to our annual Halloween short story contest.

Once again the prize will be $25 and worldwide recognition though the pages of A.M. Costa Rica. After all, we are read in 89 countries each day.

The stories must have a theme that is consistent with Halloween: Spooks, witches, goblins, ghosts. 

By submitting a story to you are certifying that the story was written by you, that it is original and unpublished and that we may publish it. We will. Graphics are welcomed but will not be part of the evaluation. Deadline is Oct. 25 at midnight, of course.

Judging will be by the strange figure that inhabits the A.M. Costa Rica offices after hours. We’ll just leave the computer on for its decision.

Try to keep the stories around, 1,000 words or less and make sure that there is a connection with Costa Rica.

Jo Stuart
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