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(506) 223-1327          Published Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 214        E-mail us    
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Two children die in Escazú service station blast
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(posted at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28)
A gasoline spill combined with a short circuit in a lighting fixture caused explosions at a Shell service station in Escazú centro Saturday morning.

Two children, Nicole Loriana González Umaña, 14, and Andre González Umaña, 5, died when their mother, Loriana Umaña Mari, could not get them out of her parked car in time. They were secured by seat belts.
A policeman is being credited with saving many motorists because he told them to leave the refueling area when the spill of gasoline happened. Seven or eight vehicles were destroyed. The twin explosions and subsequent fire caused traffic to be blocked all over the western end of the metropolitan area.

The cause of the spill was not clear immediately but one witness said gasoline flowed like a fountain. The short circuit was believed to be in a light fixture on the interior of the roof above the pumps.



A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Evelio Rodríquez operates in the Parque Central in Heredia. He has a local business license and has sold copos for 30 years.

Talk about the daily grind: The life of the copero
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

For many Costa Ricans, the granizado brings memories of Puntarenas, when it was the only accessible beach for most. According to Elena Ruiz of Santo Domingo de Heredia who has been eating granizados for more than 50 years, a trip by train down to Puntarenas was a highlight of each summer when she was young. Packing up all the siblings and who-knows-how-many cousins and neighbors, probably enough to fill up their own rail car, they ate hard-boiled eggs and drank horchata on the train, and had vigorón on the Paseo de los Turistas.

The granizado is the typical snow-cone, served in a paper cone like those used at the water cooler. Traditionally it is shaved ice with syrup of some sort. Now, most are copos, the same but in a larger paper cup layered with condensed and/or powdered milk. Syrup comes in several flavors like lime, root beer, and bubble gum, but the traditional favorite is cola. Nothing to do with carbonated drinks or cola beans here. The taste of this sticky, bright red concoction is usually described by the unitiated as sweet.

The traditional rolling copo cart is built over two motorcycle wheels and can be a substantial investment, in the 75,000- to 100,000-colon ($150-$200) range. Usually it is made of wood and should be brightly painted for maximum visibility. A canopy to keep the sun off helps keep the block of ice inside from melting.

On a recent weekday afternoon with few tourists to be seen, Eugenio Quintilla shared the Paseo with several other coperos. On a weekday he can take in 8,000 colons ($15). A half maqueta block of ice costs 1,300 colons and can’t be saved for the next day. A good Sunday can produce 15,000 to 20,000 colons ($30-$40). The vastly larger customer base doesn’t translate to the improved sales because there is more competition. A $40 day means about 8,000 colons in expenses for Quintilla. He purchases supplies at the local Pali supermarket. A copo with just a dab of condensed milk was 400 colons, with two milks, 450 colons (85 U.S. cents). Tourist prices.

Evelio Rodríguez is a typical urban copero, with a municipal business license that gives him exclusive rights to Heredia’s central park. He’s been selling copos for 30 years, 14 in that park.

A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Eugenio Quintilla is a native of Puntareana and dedicated to the copo trade.

There is some competition from roving operators, but the large park with plenty of through traffic is  prime territory. What if somebody tries to edge in? “Those guys throw him out,” pointing to a couple of municipal cops lounging nearby. Business wasn’t great on an overcast Tuesday. “On a Sunday, I can sell the whole block [of ice] and be home by 4 pm. Look, not even a quarter gone.”

The full-size maqueta is good for about 30,000 colons ($60) income, and costs 1,800. Rodríguez
doesn’t keep track of how many units that is, but at 350 for one leche and 400 for two, 85 would be a good day. That means most of a packet of straws, plastic spoons, and cups totaling 3,000 colons. Other costs include about two kilos of powered Pinito, 10 or 12 700 ml. bottles of syrup, and 10 packets of condensed milk, totaling about 15,000 colons. He prefers the El Angel brand of milk, and doesn’t skimp on it.  Total costs make up about half the selling price, meaning a bit more than minimum wage during the week and twice that on Sunday.  He also picks up 6,000 per month from advertising for a furniture store stenciled on the side of the cart.

Some other parks have weekend operations, such as the central park of Santo Domingo. On Independence Day some price gouging was evident. At 450 for dos leches, the Sunday/holiday copero was in direct competition with the Pops ice cream outlet across the street where one can get a single-scoop cone for 500 colons. Business was heavy, but he expected to sell only 75 watery copos.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 214


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Dock strike in Limón
finally ends with accord

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(posted at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27)
The government said Friday that the dock strike in Limón is over. The accord was reached early Friday. The government dropped its demand that strikers must be punished and agreed to make a $900,000 payment long over due strikers.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez said in San José that he was pleased with the agreement and promised to sit down with not only dock workers but all sectors of the society in the Provincia de Limón to discuss plans.

The president envisions a $350 million megaport on the Caribbean coast but he said everyone knows the government does not have the money to set up  this kind of operation.

Union dock workers oppose the idea of the government leasing the docks at Limón and Moín as a concession to a private firm, But Arias said they might change their mind when they understand the plans.

Earlier story below

Dock dispute continues
between union, government


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The dock situation in Limón still is not resolved.

The government is ready to pay dock workers some $900,000 promised by the prior Abel Pacheco administration. But dock workers want amnesty for those who participated in this week's strike, something the government is not prepared to offer.

Francisco Morales,the minister of Trabajo, has been negotiating for the government.

On the other side are representatives of the union of employees of the Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Econmico de la Vertiente del Atlántico, the government agency that runs the docks.

The main concern Thursday was to clear the way so that a cruise ship can arrive today. Officials said the local economy lost more than $100,000 when the captain of the Carnival Victory declined to dock with 3,000 passengers Wednesday because of the strike.

So far the cruise ships for today and Saturday still are scheduled to arrive. This means work for many in the province who depend on the tourist trade.

Security still is an issue. Police confronted young fire bombers and rioters Wednesday night and to a less extent Thursday. The youngsters, who were from some of the area's poorer neighborhoods are being considered surrogates for the union members.

Police officials said they wondered how poor youngsters got their hands on so much gasoline and special nails they rigged to puncture tires of passing cars.

Dock workers have been conducting a slowdown since late September. The slowdown morphed into a full-scale strike earlier this week in concert with demonstrations by union workers in San José who were opposed to the free trade treaty with the United States.

Although not directly involved with the free trade treaty, the main concern of dock workers is that the Óscar Arias administration not lease the docks to a concessionaire. That was done at the Caldera docks on the Pacific, and the initial results are tempting.

The concessionaire, Sociedad Portuaria de Caldera S.A,, reported Thursday that the firm had already invested about $1 million in equipment at the docks. That includes a sophisticated computer system. The success or failure of the concession on the Pacific directly affects strikers at the Caribbean Limón and Moín docks because the Pacific venture is competition.

Officials like concessions because they can authorize major improvements without investing public money.

The Arias administration can take a hard line in Limón because a judge found that the strike is illegal. So union workers who participated can find themselves facing criminal charges. And they fear that the government would not hesitate to bring in strikebreakers if union workers do not go back on the job.

Thanks, but no thanks
Nation says of U.N. seat


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's foreign minister says that the country is not a compromise candidate to take a U.N. Security Council seat now being contested by Venezuela and Guatemala.

Neither country seems to be able to muster sufficient votes in the U.N. General Assembly. U.S.-backed Guatemala has prevailed over Venezuela in all but one of the votes, but failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to win the seat.

The minister here, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, said that Costa Rica would prefer to win the seat for Jan.1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2009. The country's name has been put forward in an effort to end the current impasse.

Pavas community getting
donation from Tawainese


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Taiwan is donating $1.4 million to improve the living conditions for the 600 families in Rincón Grande de Pavas.

The area is what is known as a precario or an informal community that developed without any planning. The donation will cover 60 percent of the cost of an improvement plan for the area, which is west of San José.

The Ministerio de Vivienda or housing ministry is in charge of the plan.


Fiber optic line repairs set

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said Thursday that vandals have damaged a fiber optic communications line between Liberia and Cañas in Guanacaste. The communications monopoly said that its crews would be doing work on the line between 10 p.m. Friday and 4 a.m. Saturday and that service might be interrupted.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 214







A tale of two buffets where the swank set brunches
One of the pleasures in life, in my opinion, is brunch.  I happen to love the foods that are served for breakfast.  I realize these foods vary from bacon and eggs and cereal to pancakes to raw, smoked or salted fish, to shredded sweet pork, rice soup, to kidneys and kippers in other countries (or, as in Costa Rica, gallo pinto).  I like them all.  But not necessarily early in the morning.  Ergo: Brunches. 

With friends I have ventured out to experience two of the better known and inviting Sunday brunches in the area.  One is at the Marriott Hotel in San Antonio de Belén where Sunday  brunch is served from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The brunch is $32 including tax and service.  That seems like a lot to the likes of me, but all brunches are all-you-can-eat, or in my case, all-I-can-sample-that-looks
-especially good. But I also dislike waste, especially of food, so I am careful to take just a small amount of something I am not sure I am going to like.

At the Marriott I had one of my favorite dishes: eggs benedict served on salmon not Canadian bacon, but cooked to perfection. 

Among the other delights were shrimp in various forms, crepes made to order, a great salmon en papillotte (baked in filo dough), asparagus and other vegetables, and an array of tiny tarts with a variety of fillings.

 They also had ham and beef, ceviche, all kinds of sweet rolls. Along with this, there is all of the champagne or mimosas (champagne and orange juice) you want.   In short, something for everyone and plenty of time to enjoy it.

The other brunch we tried was at the Real InterContinental Hotel just off the Autopista Próspero Fernández in Escazú.  Since they don’t begin serving until noon, “brunch” is almost a misnomer.  This is another great array of dishes that would tempt that most disciplined dieter.

At the entrance a table of bowls of whipped cream, strawberries, nuts and a variety of sweets I didn’t want to be tempted by flanked a cook preparing crepes.  Then came a table of artistically displayed small tartlets with fillings ranging from kiwi and strawberries fruit to nuts and puddings and meringues. 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

There were no eggs benedict (but I was told that you could
order them for breakfast.)  Peeking under the silver lids of the serving dishes gives pleasure to a gourmet or gourmand.  Under them were asparagus and mushrooms, mashed potatoes, fresh mixed vegetables, salmon in a white wine sauce, corvina, and medallions of beef.  Another section had cold crawfish, shrimp and crab.  There was a table covered with various salad ingredients next to a table with a half dozen different cheeses and another with sushi and seafood soup.  At the far end was a serving table where they were cutting medium rare roast beef. The waiter came around with champagne and mimosas whenever my glass was empty.

Reservations seem necessary at the Intercontinental (although I was told that you can arrive without a reservation but won’t get a table near the garden, which I must say is desirable.)  The price of their brunch is $36, which also includes tax and service.

According to retired restaurant reviewer and food critic Mimi Sheraton, dining out is so much more fun than eating at home because first of all, you don’t have to eat what everyone else is eating. And the conversation is on a higher plane, which may be one of the reasons you spend more time at the table when you dine out.   Also, people take more trouble to dress nicely, even though casually.  She found however, that it wasn’t nearly as much fun when she was no longer reviewing restaurants.

I don’t have that problem.  I don’t miss reviewing restaurants but I am always critical and like to discuss the merits and failings of different dishes.  I have plenty of opportunity to do this at a brunch.  I found the two brunches comparable and will have to go back to better judge.

Brunches remind me of when I was about 4 years old (I loved to eat even then) and experienced the first tragic moment of my life when I realized that eating took away my appetite, or as I put it, “I can still chew but I can’t swallow.”



No-nonsense Desamparados celebrates its birthday next week
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If there is a canton of the broad shoulders in Costa Rica, it is Desamparados.

You can drink your chardonnay in the Canton de Escazú in the shadow of Tony Roma's Ribs. And you can debate philosophy and politics in the Canton de Montes de Oca near the Universidad de Costa Rica.

But if you want a muffler repaired or some sheet metal or iron work done, it's the Canton de Desamparados.

The U.S. poet Carl Sandburg once called Chicago the city of the broad shoulders because of its immigrant laborers doings back breaking work. The urban part of Desamparados is like that with the authentic Costa Rica engrossed in daily labor to put bread on the table.

And Desamparados will celebrate its 144th birthday next week. The area south of the capital is one of 15 cantons of the Provincia de San José. To make matters confusing, one of those cantons is called San José, the capital of the province and the country.

Desamparados with its 12 districts is one of the most populous cantons of the province with some 200,000 residents in some 118 square kilometers, about 29,150 acres. It has upscale urban living, depressing slums and sprawling rural areas. Each canton has its own municipal government.
The Desamparados birthday party will begin Tuesday and run through Nov. 5. It is being dedicated to the memory of  José "Chepito" Ureña, a local painter.

The birthday celebration begins with an exposition in the municipal building Tuesday. And there is an exposition of local paintings in the Museo Joaquín García Monge starting Wednesday.

A week from today there will be a musical evening of songs and dance at the Gimnasio del Colegio Nuestra Señora de los Desamparadeños at 6 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 4,  there will be a short parade with macaradas, those extra-tall characters, starting at noon from the Explanada del Parque Centenario. through the center of Desamparados central.
 
A horse ride is planned from San Marcos de Tarrazú arriving at the Museo Nacional de la Carreta y el Campesino Costarricense en Porvenir de Desamparados, at about 4 p.m.

There will be a 6 p.m. Mass at the Templo Parroquial de Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados. At 7 p.m. on the Explanada  student bands will compete followed by fireworks at 9 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 5 will see activities for children and more music from the Banda Juvenil Municipal de Desamparados, again in the centro.




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Bush signs measure to build fence along border with México
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President George Bush has signed a law authorizing construction of more than 600 miles of fence along America's border with Mexico.  Illegal immigration is an important issue in some of next month's congressional elections.

President Bush says illegal immigration is on the rise in the United States, because the government has not been in complete control of its southern border for decades.

"We have a responsibility to address these challenges," he said.  "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws. We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility seriously."

Bush says the legislation he signed into law will help meet that responsibility by increasing the number of border agents, creating new vehicle barriers and adding beds to detention centers for illegal immigrants.

But the new fence at the centerpiece of the Secure Borders Act may never be built, as only a portion of the necessary funding has been approved. Estimates for more than 600 miles of fence range from $6 billion to $8 billion. Congress has so far approved just over $1 billion for a fence that would cover nearly one-third of America's border with Mexico.

Still, President Bush says the extra lighting, high technology cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles authorized in the bill will help make the border more secure.

"We are modernizing the southern border of the United States so we can assure the American people we are doing
 our job of securing the border," he added.  "By making wise use of physical barriers and deploying 21st century technology, we are helping our border patrol agents do their job."

Plans for the new fence have added to border tensions with outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox who called it shameful and compared it to the Berlin Wall.

Most members of President Bush's political party from states along the southern border have championed the fence as a national security issue.

But many oppose the president's proposed guest worker program, which would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States for a specific period of time.

While his own Republican Party blocked that plan in Congress, President Bush says he intends to press ahead with the temporary worker plan after next month's elections. Bush says it is not practical to deport as many as 12 million illegal immigrants.

"They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship," explained Mr. Bush.  "That is amnesty. I oppose amnesty. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation."

Immigration is a hot topic in some of the races where opposition Democrats hope to win control of the House of Representatives.

A public opinion poll by the cable television network CNN says two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Bush is handling immigration.  A majority of Americans favor building new fences.


One guerrilla group agrees to open peace talks on Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

Colombia's government and the second largest rebel group have agreed to open formal peace talks to end decades of fighting.

The government's peace envoy, Luis Carlos Restrepo and a leader, Antonio Garcia of the rebel Ejército de Liberación Nacional, known as ELN, announced the plan during talks in Havana, Cuba, Thursday.

The two men said they agreed to seek peaceful conditions and the inclusion of Colombian society in the peace process. Earlier this year, ELN rebels split with their former ally, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, known as FARC, because of their desire to pursue talks with the government.

FARC leaders have rejected talks with the government.

This week, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe withdrew an offer for talks with the FARC, blaming the leftist fighters for a car bombing. The blast wounded 23 people in Bogota.
Meanwhile in Washington, a U.S. official said that Colombia's human rights record has improved.  Colombia has made tremendous progress over the last five years to six years, said R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of State for political affairs.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in Bogotá, Colombia's capital, after meeting with Colombian officials, Burns hailed the "dramatic reduction" in the level of violence carried out by Colombian terrorist and paramilitary groups against Colombia's citizens.

Burns said the process for the State Department to certify Colombia's respect for human rights is on its regular schedule.  The official said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the person who certifies, and "so when the time is right,” a recommendation will be made to her on the certification.

Approximately $27.5 million of 2006 U.S. fiscal year funds for the Colombian armed forces would be released if Rice certifies that Colombia is meeting certain specific criteria on respect for human rights.  An additional $27.5 million in funds could be released in the next few months.


Correa promises to make sweeping changes in the government of Ecuador
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorian presidential candidate Rafael Correa has vowed to pursue a series of political reforms if elected in next month's run-off vote.

In an interview, the former economy minister said he believes many voters support a call for sweeping changes in the government. He pointed to what he called the high number of voters who cast blank ballots in legislative elections this month.
Correa also rejected allegations from critics who say he is a radical leftist with strong ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

His rival, businessman Alvaro Noboa, has vowed to renew stalled talks on a free trade deal with the United States, if elected. Correa has criticized a possible trade deal with Washington.

Opinion polls released this week show that Noboa is widely favored to win in the Nov. 26 run-off.


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