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(506) 2223-1327         Published Friday, Oct. 29, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 214            E-mail us
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Tico culture being reclaimed with masks Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday is Halloween, but for many Costa Ricans this is a foreign holiday. So the Día de la Mascarada Costarricense was born to provide a local cultural outlet to the tradition of wearing disguises.

Events will be held Sunday in Liberia, Cañas, Aserrí and Heredia and Saturday in Cartago. In Aserrí there is the added bonus of the weekend  Feria del Tamal, the event that honors the country's traditional Christmas food.

Naturally the masked events will be surrounded by dancing, music and food.

This also is the weekend when the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional celebrates its 70th birthday.

The day of the masks can be traced to a decree issued in 1997 that formalized the tradition. But popular culture needs no decree. The parades of masks and similar are at least a hundred years old. The Museo de Cultura Popular of the Universidad Nacional in Heredia has original masks from the early days of the 20th century.

Looking further back, one can link celebrations with masks to the pre-Columbian cultures. The masks made by the Boruca and Bribri peoples are world famous. So are the Juego de los Diablitos and its masked figures with which the Boruca mark the new year. 

Early masked festivals among the Spanish-
speaking populations were related to religious events.

In Liberia, the Banda de Guanacaste will play in the Parque Central there at 7 p.m Sunday. There will be awards for the top three masks that typify what is being called the national style.

At the weekend Feria de Tamal 2010 in Aserrí groups from a number of Central Valley communities will gather to march with bands starting at 10 a.m. Sunday. The event lasts all day ending with fireworks in the evening. It is called the Encuentro Nacional de Mascaradas.

The tamal festival began Thursday. Aserrí is the appropriate place because it was here in 1947 that the first tamales for commercial sale were made. The town is now a center of that activity with a flurry of effort every December to prepare
masks of Costa Rica
Perhaps a mask that typifies the national style

thousands of the banana leaf-wrapped specialties. Aserrí is south of San José in the mountains above Desamparados.

In Cañas the Sunday event will be at 7 p.m. in Plaza Colón with cimarronas or small marching bands and masked participants.

In the Casa de la Cultura in Heredia ghost and horror stories will be mixed with theatrical presentations and a parade of masked figures in the nearby Parque Central. That starts at 4 p.m.

In Paraíso de Cartago the municipality is organizing a celebration Saturday starting at 7 p.m. with masked paraders in the vicinity of the local cemetery and then ending up at the Parque Central.

At all the events, masks certainly will represent political figures, sports personalities, animals and characters from various legends. Masks of Óscar Arias Sánchez were very popular during four years of protests over the free trade treaty with the United States. It is a good bet that someone is crafting a mask of President Laura Chinchilla Miranda.

There will be no mask at the orchestra concert tonight or Sunday morning at the Teatro Nacional. There are no seats left either. But theater workers are putting up a big screen in the Plaza de la Cultura for the overflow.

Meanwhile, the Fuerza Pública is on high alert this weekend as young vandals take advantage of the Halloween tradition to impede traffic and do damage.

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U.N. expert says Panamá
should decriminalize libel

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations independent expert on the right to the freedom of opinion and expression voiced concern Thursday over a prison sentence for two Panamanian journalists, who had earlier been acquitted on charges of slander and libel.

UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue said in a statement that, according to available information, the two journalists were also prohibited from carrying out activities related to their profession for one year.

The pair are Sabrina Bacal, TVN Channel 2's news director, and Justino González, the reporter on the story.

“This judicial decision represents a worrying precedent for the efforts being made to decriminalize such incidents, especially in cases such as this, wherein the act which led to the punishment relates to information about the actions of public officials,” La Rue said.

Costa Rica has a similar law.

Although the Panamá prison terms were later commuted to a fine and there was the possibility of a pardon, the expert reiterated his position on the importance of the right of citizens to be fully informed about the activities of public officials.

“Despite the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states frequently limit or restrict freedom of expression arbitrarily, even resorting to criminal laws or civil actions, in order to silence dissent or criticism,” he stated.

He urged Panama to take account of international instruments related to the exercise of the right to the freedom of opinion and expression.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said two lower courts dismissed the charges but a court of appeals convicted the pair of criminal defamation and banned them from professional work for one year, news reports said. President Ricardo Martinelli said he would pardon the journalists, the Committee said that lawmakers should repeal all criminal penalties for defamation.

The case stems from a 2005 story alleging that Panamanian immigration officials were taking part in human trafficking. Two officials named in the story filed a defamation complaint against the pair.

In a ruling dated Sept. 28, an appeals court in Panama City overturned the lower court decisions and barred the reporters from working for one year. The court also ordered Ms. Bacal and González to pay a $3,650 fine or be subjected to a one-year suspended prison term.

Earlier this year, veteran Panamanian journalist Carlos Núñez López served 20 days in prison in connection with a 2008 criminal defamation conviction, the committee said. A property owner alleged he was defamed in a story about environmental damage in Bocas del Toro province.

Panama has only partially decriminalized defamation. Under a May 2008 reform, defamation of high-ranking public officials is no longer subject to criminal sanctions. But other criminal defamation provisions remain in place. The TVN Canal 2 case would be subject to criminal defamation even now, for example, because it did not involve senior officials, said Miguel Bernal, a Panamanian lawyer who handles press freedom issues, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

President heads north
for two days of visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda will be going north today and will eventually visit Alfaro Ruiz, San Carlos, Guatuso, Upala and Los Chiles.

The first stop today will be the celebration of Zarcero's 100th anniversary. This afternoon the president will meet with the Cámara de Ganaderos in San Carlos at 2 p.m.

Friday the president will be in Guatuso, Upala and Los Chiles for various official functions.

Quepos residents invited
to gripe about government

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Got a beef? Live in Quepos?

If so, the Defensoría de los Habitantes will have a representative in the regional office of the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social Wednesday from 8 a.m. to receive complaints.

The Defensoría is the nation's ombudsman, an office that takes the side of citizens against government transgressions.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

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Archivo Nacional will mark the lottery's 125th birthday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 125 years have past since the Junta de Caridad in San José staged a lottery to support Hospital San Juan de Dios. The concept was not universally popular and the city was full of such lotteries, legitimate or not.

Eventually the idea took hold and the Junta de Caridad became the present Junta de Protección Social.  The destination for funds raised in the lottery were spelled out clearly by law.

The Archivo Nacional is marking the anniversary with an exposition, “El juego de la solidaridad. Historia de las loterías en Costa Rica,” which opens Wednesday in Zapote.

Like postage stamps, lottery tickets are colorful and laden with history. They also attract collectors. One is Jorge Castro Mora, whose collection is part of the exposition and who wrote the guide for the displays, said the Archivo Nacional.

The Junta notes that the early lotteries faced heavy competition and displeasure from the Roman Catholic church. Now, however, the drawings have multiplied to instant lotteries, electronic lotteries and the Gordo Navideño, the fat Christmas lottery.
lotteries of today

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Jorge Castro Mora collection
Ticket issued in 1921 to mark the 100th anniversary of the country's independence.

Disabled access lacking at bank ATMs, Defensoría reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Defensoría de los Habitantes is asking banks to explain why they have not complied with plans announced two years ago to make automatic tellers accessible for the blind and persons in wheelchairs.

The Defensoría said it looked at what has happened since 2008 and found that only Banco Nacional had partly complied with the agreement.

The Banco de Costa Rica has an automatic teller that
responds with a voice, but it does not provide additional voice instructions as to various menus and the keyboard, said the Defensoría.

Costa Rica has a law, well-known as Ley 7600, that requires that public places and activities be accessible.

The Defensoría only checked the four public banks.

It said its responsibility did not cover private banks, but it asked the Asociación Bancaria Costarricense to move toward the requirements of the law with its affiliates.

The popular tide seems to be turning in favor of San José
When I asked the question about the word with the longest list of definitions last week, I had not set a time or manner in which to inform readers or tell those of you who guessed it right. Vi, from Jacó, who loves anything regarding linguistics, let me know on Friday morning at 6:15 that the word was set. And at least six others responded correctly. It is not a versatile word. None of set’s many definitions wander far from its primary meaning. (Unlike the word cop that has a short list of definitions and a wide variety of meanings.)

Usually my week has no theme. That is, I don’t have the routine of a job (except for writing my column, which I don’t consider a job), or something repetitive to give it form. The days are complete unto themselves. Sometimes I have a week of lunching out or a week of seeing old friends, or even a week of living dangerously. But usually, after the routine of my morning coffee, each day is whatever I plan it to be.

Or don’t. But the days of this past week did seem to tie together harmoniously.

I joined other English speaking expats at the Luis Dobles public school located in La Sabana in what used to be the former airport complex. The students were in their auditorium which once was the airplane hangar, so you can imagine the size and height. It was English Day. Groups of students had tables with decorations, brief histories (in English) and hand-made artifacts and were wearing costumes depicting holidays celebrated by English-speaking people throughout the world

After we viewed the displays there was a program, the highlight of which was a group of students dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Then we formed small groups and talked with the students, when possible, in English. Afterwards we were asked if we could stay for coffee, as they wanted to thank us. We were led to a room where the white clothed tables were set with coffee cups, and then we were served, not only coffee, but sandwiches, fruit, cheese and cake. Miriam, the teacher who is working with members of the Little Theatre Group to bring English speakers to schools, thanked us. That was quite a thank you!

The next day I attended a meeting of the Professional Women’s Networking group where the talk was about sustainable growth, recycling and conscious living. It was held in the newly built bamboo room at the Tin Jo
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

restaurant. The room was filled with women in all kinds
of businesses from running bed and breakfasts to making jewelry with recycled tabs from cans and other nonprofit organizations. A small group of people are organizing to revive San José as a destination of choice.

They want to advertise the one-of-a-kind places to visit in the city. I was overjoyed. I have felt like a voice in the wilderness lauding San José and talking about frugal living, and now I am not alone.

Then to tie it together for me was hearing some quotes from Erich Fromm the psychiatrist and philosopher who died in 1980. I had read some of his works but forgotten them. Googling him, I discovered that 40 years ago he was talking about two personality types that embraced two ways of living: having and being. A having personality looks for happiness through accumulating and possessing things, sometimes even people. This personality type has increased in some countries. The urge to own and keep stuff is responsible for the appearance and success of a new business: renting storage units. In its extreme, it can lead to pathological hoarders.

Being personalities savor the experiences in life rather than what possessions they can accumulate. They are the people who believe in the saying “Be here now.” of Ram Dass and the 60s. (And believe me, talking with students you are here now, even if they are not.) The extreme of this group might be the mendicant monks.

Fromm, not surprisingly, thought that the being types were healthier, more productive people. Well, this group is growing. They are the small is beautiful, less is more, frugal, recycling, let’s appreciate the here and now and save our planet for future generation.

I felt like the band is joining the different drummer, and this is not happening just in Costa Rica.

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This is the town dump for Los Chiles
Los Chiles town dump
Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo photo

Environmental inspectors open 19 cases at Caño Negro

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Administrativo Ambiental reported Thursday that the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro and adjacent areas harbor a multitude of environmental problems.

Among other concerns, the Tribunal expressed worry about the growing monoculture of pineapples in the areas near the protected area and said there were invasions of wetlands and waterways. It also expressed concern about possible pollution of drinking water as a result of agricultural chemicals.

The area is in the cantons of Upala, Guatuso and Los Chiles in northern Alajuela province. The tribunal also cited the Los Chiles dump for air pollution and other environmental problems.

Experts from the tribunal, the Área de Conservación Huetar Norte, Fuerza Pública officers, and technicians from two public universities toured the area twice. The report reads like a textbook of environmental damage.

The Tribunal said it found construction within the Caño Negro wetlands as well as logging in protected forest areas.

Inspection also revealed earthworks such as dikes and drainage canals that have an impact on the adjacent wetlands.

There also were evidences that gravel had been extracted from rivers, mainly the Río Frio, and that earth had been moved without steps being take to minimize the damage. This alters the natural flow of water, the Tribunal said.

Inspections also revealed changes in land use and the cutting of primary forests as well as secondary.

tree cuting for pina
Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo photo
These trees are uprooted to make way for more pineapple land, the Tribunal said.

The Tribunal expressed many concerns about activities that change the water flow and seepage into the wetlands where many species of birds nest.

The pineapple operations are legal, despite some violations, but the Tribunal has seen many problems elsewhere.

Inspectors even found a bar that has been built partly on refuge land. The owner was cited, the tribunal said.

In all there were 19 cases of environmental problems that came from the inspections. In addition the Tribunal urged that the municipalities take more control and conduct more oversight of the areas.

It also called on a handful of ministries and national institutes to take a lead role in imposing land use planning on the area.

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Exhibit explores New York
as second Latin capital city

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

A new exhibit in New York explores the city's long history of cultural and political connections with Spain and Latin America, ties that have affected virtually every aspect of the city's development.

Whether it's the bilingual signs, the ever-present corner bodega grocery stores, or just the spicy rhythms of life in the Big Apple, it's hard to walk down a street in New York City and not sense its Latino flavor.

Marci Reavin is the curator at "Nueva York," a new exhibit on the subject mounted jointly by the Museo del Bario and the New York Historical Society. She says the roots of this influence go back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Spanish Empire controlled a swath of land extending from central South America north through the Caribbean and into North America, from Florida to California.

"So some of the objects we have in the show are the kinds of things that would have been taken from Spanish treasure ships," says Reavin, "like a 16th century bar of silver or the beautiful piece of fabric which shows the red dye that was called cochenille."

Cochenille is the rare and beautiful scarlet dye made from South American insects. Europeans used it to make its finest royal, clerical and military cloth. It's just one of the New World's riches that imperial Spain exploited. But by the late 18th and early 19th centuries, that empire was beginning to weaken from a series of financially ruinous European wars, the cost of supplying and fortifying their outposts in the Americas, piracy and other factors.

The Spanish Empire was especially challenged during the 1850s, as the United States with New York as its financial capital sought to expand its influence south to Cuba, Puerto Rico, northern South America and other lands claimed by the Spanish monarchs.

"But they are also challenged by Puerto Ricans and Cubans who live in New York and are running the liberation struggles out of New York with the goal of freeing Cuba and Puerto Rico from their Spanish imperial masters," says Ms. Reavin. "New York is a free city. We have political freedom here. So revolutionaries from all over the world can meet here and plan for revolution in their home country. And they do that in New York during the 1850s and 60s and all the way up to the 1890s when the final war for Cuban liberation starts."

Other trends would couple the destinies of Latin America and New York, as Wall Street investment capital flowed south and raw Latin American goods and produce like tobacco, silver and sugar flowed to northern factories, where they were made into consumer export products. Nueva York historian Mike Wallace says that by the late 1880s, the metropolis was the sugar refining capital of the world.

"So New York, in an odd way, becomes a kind of second capital of Latin America," says Wallace. "And it's a place where many Latin Americans come to get an education, to see the wonders of modernity, to glimpse the future."

Wallace adds that during the early to mid 20th century, Latin rhythms became an important part of American popular culture. Latin American New Yorkers like Machito, for example, teamed up with African American jazzmen to create new musical hybrids.

And out of this comes Afro-Latin jazz which eventually develops into salsa.

"Salsa people tend to think it is coming out of Latin America. But no. It's coming out of Latin Americans who come to New York City, interact with both blacks and Puerto Ricans and Cubans who are here already and their music is picked up by the music industry," says Wallace. "And you get this incredible dynamism that explodes in the 60s and 70s into salsa, an international phenomenon."

Latino immigration skyrocketed following World War II. Between 1945 and 1965, 800,000 Puerto Ricans came to New York. During the 1960s and 70s, hundreds of thousands of Dominicans arrived following the death of the dictator Rafael Trujillo and the escalating U.S. intervention in Dominican political affairs.

Ric Burns, who made a documentary film about postwar Latino New York for the exhibit, says that these newcomers could keep in close touch with their homelands in ways earlier generations could not.

"This is a telephone and airplane migration. People can call home," says Burns. "They are hours from home. It's a very modern change."

Mexicans are the latest comers in Latino New York. In 1984, there were 40,000 Mexicans here. Today, there are a half million. According to Burns, New Yorkers experience this change every day.

"So it's food. It's culture. It's dance. It's music," says Burns. "And what's really amazing is that all those things are mixing it up here. So although they are coming from Latin America and the Caribbean, this Pan Latino identity is an absolutely homegrown American product."
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San Ramón expats discuss
security with U.S. diplomat

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Visiting diplomat Arturo Valenzuela and U.S. Ambassador Anne Slaughter Andrew met with the San Ramón-based Community Action Alliance Wednesday to discuss crime and security concerns.

In addition to expats, local politicians, chamber of commerce members and police attended the session at the Escazú residence of the ambassador.

Valenzuela. a Latin expert, is U.S. assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Ambassador Andrew and Assistant Secretary Valenzuela were scheduled to meet with President Laura Chinchilla immediately after the meeting to discuss a range of issues upon which the U.S. and Costa Rica collaborate, including security.

This is the latest outreach effort by the U.S. Embassy and follows on the heels of an embassy-sponsored speaking tour that took place in late September by community policing specialist Arturo Venegas, Jr. in San Ramón, Quepos, Dominical and Jacó. 

The Community Action Alliance is one of several expat groups that have organized to address issues of special interest to foreigners here.

Valenzuela was visiting Nicaragua Thursday.

Sala IV orders repairs
for risky Barva bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Heredia resident who uses a bridge over the Quebrada Seca in Barva got fed up with the condition of the span and filed a Sala IV appeal. He said the bridge was putting at risk the lives of those who crossed it because of lack of maintenance and that he feared a catastrophe.

The Sala IV agreed, in part because there is a technical report on the poor state of the bridge. The court ordered the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, the road agency, to issue orders immediately so that within a month's time work will begin to replace the bridge.

The court also issued similar orders to Francisco José Jiménez Reyes, minister Obras Públicas y Transportes and the municipalities involved.

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