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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 1, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 216
Jo Stuart
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Cremation: A logical choice for an expat here
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Tomorrow is All Souls' Day, a Roman Catholic time to commemorate the departed believed to be in Purgatory. The day purposely follows All Saints’ Day, today, in order to shift the focus from those in Heaven to those in Purgatory.

Regardless of how difficult it may be to admit, death is a part of life everyone must face.  How one deals with death is as important as how one deals with life.

In Guanacaste, Costa Rica it is a custom of the local people in small towns to have a party for someone who has died when that person was considered to have lived a full and fulfilling life and had left no unfinished business behind.

It is important to leave a plan for loved ones.  Most people only think about death in terms of a will.  A will is only part of a good succession plan.  Another important element of a good plan is leaving instructions on one’s preference as to burial or cremation.

Most Costa Ricans do not embrace cremation, but many other countries do.  Cremation has expanded rapidly worldwide. Since 1973, the number of cremations in North America has more than tripled. Countries such as Japan (97 percent), Great Britain (70 percent) and Scandinavia (over 65 percent) continue to show a high percentage of cremations. It's predicted that by the year 2010, cremations in the U.S. will be close to 40 percent.

For expats here, cremation frequently is the most practical solution because a normal body is reduced to about six pounds of granular material that can easily be shipped.

The word cremation comes from the Latin word cremo which means "to burn," particularly the burning of the dead.  Most archaeologists believe that cremation was invented during the Stone Age, about 3000 B.C.  It was most likely first used in Europe or the Near East. It became the most common method of disposing of bodies by 800 B.C. in Greece, and 600 B.C. in Rome.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the followers of other religions were exiled, exterminated or burned at the stake, burial became the only method of disposing of bodies of good Christians throughout Europe.

Not until an Italian professor developed the first modern cremation chamber in the 1870s did a movement towards cremation in Europe and North America begin, which has continued to the present day.

People's increasing mobility drives much of the new interest in cremation. People often retire to another state or country away from their children. So there is less ancestry tying them to a community and to a community cemetery.

There are other factors, including the lower cost of cremation and high sensitivity to environmental concerns driving this choice.  Some also believe fire purifies at death and releases the spirit from the body.

Jardines de Recuerdo pioneered cremation in Costa Rica with its sponsored regulation "Reglamento de Cremación de Cadáveres y Restos Humanos" on Nov. 25, 1986. The funeral firm brought the first cremation oven to the country in 1985. Over the years, most of the cremations done by Jardines de Recuerdo have been preformed for foreigners. However, slowly the trend is catching on among Costa Ricans.  Currently, cremations are estimated to be about

15 percent of deaths in Costa Rica, compared to the United States, 25.5 percent, and Canada’s 42.7 percent.

Article 5 of the regulation states that all bodies to be cremated need to undergo an autopsy and that a permit must be issued by health officials. Both procedures are now easily accomplished and done at the crematorium in most cases. 

Cremation costs around $2,000 today in Costa Rica.  Transporting a body from anywhere in Costa Rica to San José for cremation costs about 500 colons per kilometer.  There are no choices of urns at the funeral parlor, they only have one model, but some interesting alternatives exist in the market.  For example, Biesanz Woodworks offers a cremation box in wood.  There are no services currently offering the spreading of ashes in Costa Rica.  The urn provided by Jardines de Recuerdo is hermetically sealed and the company can provide a special authorization to transport remains out of the country. Jardines de Recuerdo is currently the only funeral company in Costa Rica offering cremation.

The American Citizen Services Section of the U.S. Embassy provides assistance to Americans in their time of need. The section can be reached at 519-2000 ext. 2452.  For an American who dies in Costa Rica, the embassy supplies a death and export certificate for families to return their loved one home.

It is a good idea to have a Costa Rican attorney prepare a legal brief and have it written in a notary book regarding wishes of cremation.  Even though it is not 100 percent necessary, the document can expedite the process if no other immediate family members can be located at the time of death.  It is also a great idea to prepay either a burial or cremation because one can lock in a price today for a service that hopefully won’t be needed for a long time.

Most attorneys in Costa Rica do not understand a will is just part of a good succession plan.  Everyone should have a good plan to help the living.  Deciding on a choice of burial or cremation is just one step.  Other aspects to consider are how property will be transferred or distributed among heirs.  Probate in Costa Rica is a difficult and time consuming process, as it is in many countries of the world. There are many things to consider creating a good succession plan before one dies, and today is a good day to reflect on all of them.

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides professional services to the international community. He can be reached at Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at

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A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Someone came early and placed flowers on this grave Sunday. The location is the Cemeterio General in Sabana Este.

Tuesday is the time 
for visiting graves

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuesday is All Souls Day on the Roman Catholic calendar here. It is a time for Costa Ricans to visit the graves of their loved ones and place flowers in their memory.

The day is not as festive here as it is in México where families hold parties in the cemetery.

Here, typically, family members will attend Mass together and then make the rounds of the family graves. Of course, most families routinely visit and decorate the graves of their departed throughout the year, but Tuesday a visit is close to obligatory.

Rodríguez in prison,
Figueres out of work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now Costa Rica has a second ex-president in prison and a third is out of work.

Friday an appeal judge ordered Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría to be moved from house arrest to the La Reforma prison in Alajuela. He joined former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier there, although the two former presidents are not in the same cellblock.

In Geneva, Switzerland, José María Figueres lost his job as president of the World Economic Forum. The forum, a foundation, said that Figueres was being allowed to resign because he admitted to having a significant contractual agreement with another company while working in a leading position at the forum for two and a half years.

By not declaring that he was being retained as a consultant, Figueres breached the rules of the organization, it said.

Figueres tried to explain away a $900,000 payment made to him by Alcatel, the French telecommunications company, by saying he was serving as a consultant.

Prosecutors are studying the allegations made against Figueres, but because he may never again enter Costa Rica they may have difficulty resolving their questions.

Calderón of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana served from 1990 to 1994. Figueres of the Partido Liberación Nacional served from 1994 to 1998. Rodríguez took office in 1998 and surrendered the port to Abel Pacheco, the current president, in 2002.

Calderón and Figueres are the sons of the leading opponents during the 1948 civil war.

Calderón is in prison for at least nine months while the investigation continues. Rodríguez was sent away for six months Friday.

Tuesday will not be
a big party night

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuesday is election day in the U.S., and the U.S. Embassy will be hosting mostly Costa Ricans at an evening of vote watching.

This is the biggest election party planned for the evening, but it is by invitation.

The embassy is co-host with the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Sabana Norte, where the event is being held.

Members of Republicans Abroad of Costa Rica have a party, too, in an Escazú home, and they are calling it a victory party.

Actually hardly anyone expects the election to be decided until early Wednesday morning, if then. Pollsters say the race between President George Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry is a tight one.

Democrats do not have a single party planned, but members of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica are meeting in several local homes to view the results.

Pacheco off to Río
for political summit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will leave Costa Rica Tuesday for Río de Janeiro, Brazil, and the summit of the heads of state of the Río Group.

Pacheco will return to Costa Rica Sunday.

While in Río, Pacheco will meet with Vincente Fox, president of México, and with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, among others.

Friday Pacheco will be a guest at a dinner in honor of John Danilovich, the former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica who is now in the same post in Brazil.

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A warning against following the popular trends
El que con lobos anda a aullar aprende

"He who runs with wolves learns to howl." This is what we say when a person’s behavior is determined by the crowd he or she hangs out with. Often it is so important to a person to be part of the "in" crowd that they are willing to surrender all their independence and individualism in order to fit in. 

An infamous pack of lobos to which today’s dicho could be applied is this year’s crop of thoroughly corrupt politicians, in Costa Rica and elsewhere, who, when they get caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, are always quick to howl "Everybody does it." 

Being a lobo is not often the smartest thing, because eventually you get caught, and often it’s in a trap of your own making. When everyone surrenders his or her responsibility to think for themselves to the group, then somebody else is likely to be doing our thinking for us. In reality the mentality of the crowd usually assumes that nobody is really doing much thinking at all, but simply following along. But, of course, this leaves the way open for leaders to emerge whose actions are not always the result of the purest of motivations.

I read recently of a restaurant owner in Puerto Viejo, Limón, who had a large group of people come to eat at her establishment, and when they went to pay her credit card machine would not work. Since none of the guests in the party had the cash to pay the entire bill, the owner very graciously told them it would be alright if they returned the following day to pay the bill. 

Several days later, after none from the group had returned to cancel the debt, she began tracking them down and calling them to see when they planed to pay the bill. They all just laughed at her. Now, these folks may think they’re very clever lobos by rewarding the woman’s trust and kindness with brazen dishonesty — everyone does it, right? — but in reality they have placed themselves on the same level as any common low-life purse snatcher.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

When we buy into the mentality of the mob, then we all are in peril of sinking to the lowest common denominator in the group.

Last year we went to our local branch of the Banco de Costa Rica in Santo Domingo to exchange some dollars for colons. When we got back home my friend was counting out his money and discovered that the teller had given him 10,000 colons too much. Realizing that the hapless clerk would have to make up the missing sum out of his own pocket we quickly returned only to find that the bank had already closed for the day. 

However, we convinced the guard at the door to help us, and he took the 10,000 colons back inside the bank along with a note to the teller explaining that he had given us too many colones in exchange for our dollars. Now, many would call us fools, saying that the teller’s error was merely our good fortune. But the goodness and appreciation that was cultivated by this simple act of human kindness was worth far more than 10,000 colons. 

Now, every time we go to the bank we are greeted with smiles and friendliness, we are no longer just account numbers in an increasingly impersonal world. It often pays to be more like a cordero than a lobo, you see.

Despite their size, the gasoline-powered karts 
give you seven to eight 
minutes of excitement.
A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Indoor test of driving skills encourages speed
By Clair-Marie Robertson 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a place in San José where there are no potholes in the road, the tarmac is even, and drivers pay attention to red traffic lights. It’s the truth! There is! 

Formula Kart Indoor is in Curridabat and is ideal for those who still feel a bit hesitant about venturing out onto the roads of Costa Rica. It also gives you an insight into just what’s running through the minds of some of the drivers you encounter on a daily basis in San José. 

Although the circuit is relatively small, one heat of seven to eight minutes leaves you energized and feeling like a Formula One professional. 

The karts are easy to maneuver and are maintained well. Weights placed at either side of the kart ensure that you don’t roll.  A crash helmet and a neck support are provided. Before you begin, 

instructors give a run down of what the different colored flags mean.  Instructions to obey the red traffic light and pull into the pit stop when your time is up was greeted with a few chuckles from the drivers. 

At the end of the heat you’ll be given your times for each lap and your best. The instructors will give you some tips at the end of the race and let you know how you can improve. A racer Sergio Sanchez Picado, 26, said "I think the best way for you to improve your time is to use the brake less, you’ll go much faster." Great advice that left others keeping their distance from him in the next race. 

Formula Kart Indoor is located 300 meters east of the Indoor Club in Curridabat. Opening times are from Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

Prices start at around $6 for a heat. Rates for group heats are a lot cheaper, so it’s recommended that visitors get a few friends to tag along. 

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Yes, Virginia, there is  Halloween. The North American night of ghosts and witches is not much celebrated here, but Hallowen is catching on. These two Costa Ricans were at an event in Casa España where a contest honored great getup. Minor Pérez is some sort of green ghoul, and Gregory Chinchilla Valverde is Dracula.

A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson

Bank fraud fugitive arrested in downtown San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Turkish citizen convicted of bank fraud in the United States skipped his sentence hearing for an extended stay in Costa Rica, which ended Friday.

Agents of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL), and the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad arrested the man, identified as Omer Eralp, not far from the Plaza de la Democracia in downtown San José. 

The man is believed to have been in Costa Rica since the sentencing hearing last March.

According to officials, Eralp opened a number of bank accounts under various names and deposited in them falsified checks and then tried to withdraw cash.

More than $100,000 in bad checks were deposited, said officials. The case was handled in federal court, and Eralp was found guilty earlier this year.

Four held to face count of international drug smuggling of cocaine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four persons ranging in age from 19 to 62, have been arrested on the allegation that they were trying to smuggle drugs out of the country by ingesting them.

The latest arrest involved a 62-year-old Dutch man who was detained Saturday afternoon. Police identified him by his last name of Ludwig. The man arrived here Oct. 18 and was leaving Juan Santamaría Airport for Amsterdam. Officials said he had 37 ovules of cocaine in his stomach, approximately a half-kilo of the substance.

Thursday the Policía de Control de Drogas stopped 

three Costa Ricans and held them on similar allegations. Among the three were a mother and daughter. The mother, 43, was identified by the last names of Salazar Ortiz. The daughter, 18, was identified by the names Chavez Salazar. They were headed to Madrid. 

Between the two, some 87 ovules of cocaine were recovered.

The third individual arrested Thursday, a man, was headed to Zurich, said officials. He was identified by the last names of Ocampo Arias. He is 31 years old. The man is a resident of Puntarenas and carried more than a kilo of cocaine in his stomach, said officials.

Jo Stuart
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