A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 7, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 220
Jo Stuart
About us

A.M. Costa Rica photos/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Decent weather in Frailes de Desamparados brought out more than 1,000 persons for an ox cart parade punctuated by local bands Sunday. It was the 143rd birthday of the canton.

Tourism operators are having a record year
By Selleny Sanabria Soto
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is headed for a record year for tourism, despite problems at both major airports and the seriously deteriorated roads and transportation infrastructure.

Officially the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo expects to end 2004 with an 18 percent increase over the 1,452,929 tourists who visited in 2004. That would mean 1.7 million tourists, and the  growth trend is expected to carry over into 2006. 

In the first half of this year the country welcomed 897,028 tourists.

In Guanacaste alone officials at Daniel Oduber airport say they will end the year with a 60 percent increase in visitors over 2004. They expect 310,000 passengers to have passed through the airport compared to the 91,000 who did so in 2003 and the 194,025 in 2004.

The airport, located in Liberia, is one of the big success stories in Costa Rican tourism as more and more tourists land there close to the Pacific beach resorts. This has changed the face of tourism in the country and also caused major problems for the airport.

The government announced an emergency plan Friday to invest 1.14 billion colons ($2.3 million)  in infrastructure and to assign 34 additional persons to handle the expected flood of tourists for the coming high season, which begins in December.

Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela still is the dominant arrival point in the country. It handled an average of 386 flights a week in the first half of this year, a 14 percent increase over the same period in 2004, tourism officials said. That compares with 21 weekly flights in an average week during the first half of the year in Liberia, still a 75 percent increase over the previous year.

Transport and tourism officials say the Liberia traffic climbs to some 36 flights a week in the high season. And these are nearly all North American tourists. Many who land at Juan Santamaría are not tourists, but even that airport has shown a 16.7 increase in tourists in the first six months of the year.

The statistics are deceptive in that most visitors to the country are counted as tourists, including 191,398 Nicaraguans in 2004, and those foreign residents here who travel outside the country every 90 days to renew their tourist visas. The North American and European markets are what interests tourism operators the most. And tourists from those markets are growing faster than the overall estimate.

In the first half of 2005 tourists from North
 America, principally the United States and Canada, grew 24 percent. Europe was up 13 percent with Spain showing a big 30 percent increase.

These numbers do not include the 300,000 cruise ship passengers who may visit the country briefly as part of their voyage, tourism officials said. The Limón area seeks to develop more options for visitors from Caribbean cruises.

Now the basic visit is a rapid bus ride to San José, a visit to the principal sites like the Museo Nacional and the Teatro Nacional, and a quick return trip. Tourism officials would like the cruise passengers from both the Caribbean and Pacific to stay longer.

The optimistic tourism projections are not without dangers. Costa Rican tourism suffered a major setback after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Now the World Tourism Organization says that an overreaction to avian flu could damage the industry.

Internationally tourism is up about 5.9 percent in the first seven months of this year over the same period in 2004, according to the World Tourism Organization, which also reports that Central America (+15 percent) is by far the leading subregion in terms of growth, ahead of Northeast Asia (+1 percent) and South America (+10 percent).

Costa Rica has suffered serious damage from rains and flooding spawned by the record number of Caribbean hurricanes that passed by this year. Some of these were in high tourism areas. Still competitors for tourism dollars, such as Cancun and New Orleans, La., suffered much worse and will need years to rebuild their damaged industries.

Transport officials expect to have at least all the major roads open and passable for the start of the high season.

The estimate of an 18 percent increase in tourism this year is by Alvaro Badilla, a spokesman for Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, the tourism minister. Badilla noted that initially tourism officials expected a smaller 10 percent increase in 2004 tourism.

All the country is very attractive for  foreigners, but Guanacaste with its Pacific beaches and the middle Pacific with Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio are the most visited, said Padilla.

Tourism operators continue to be concerned about housing. The squeeze comes during the high season. In the first half of the year, some 360 hotel rooms were constructed to give the country a total of 36,659. Nevertheless, most of the rooms in major hotels already are booked for the high season.

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Police drug seizures
reach record amount

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With a seizure of 167 kilos of cocaine, drug agents with the Ministerio de Gobernacíón, Policía y Seguridad Pública broke the previous record they had reached for the amount of cocaine seized in a year, agents said.  And there's still approximately seven weeks to go. 

The seizure makes 5,623 kilos for the year.  The previous record was 5,566, set in 1997, agents said.

The specifics of the seizure were this: agents pulled over a Nissa Urban at a checkpoint near Kilometer 37 in Río Claro de Guaycará, Golfito, agents said.  Fuerza Pública officers found the stash, separated into kilo packages, in two hidden compartments in the van, they said.  The agents arrested the 38-year-old driver, identified by the last names Chávez Salas.

Agents said the van was headed towards San José.  If convicted, Chávez faces 15 years in prison, agents said. 

Two homes raided
as crack cocaine outlets

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization raided two houses 50 meters apart late Thursday evening and arrested two married couples as well as a fifth man on allegations of selling marijuana and crack cocaine, agents said.  The houses were in Pueblo Nuevo de Parrita near Quepos, agents said.  

In the first house, agents arrested a 22-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man who were married, agents said.  They also arrested another person, who agents think was involved.  Agents said they found 47 crack rocks and five marijuana joints as well as nearly 25,000 colons ($50.91) in coins, they said.

Agents said that crime in the town had increased in the six months the couple had lived in the house.  The agents attribute that rise to the the couple letting users consume their drug of choice inside the house.  Agents also say that the couple let buyers pay them in goods, which added to the increase in robberies in the town. 

Agents also raided a house 50 meters down the street which had been under surveillance for a year, they said. 

The agents arrested a 42-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman who were also married, they said.  These two had guards notify them by radio whenever police were in town, agents said.  The house was also at a dead end, which allowed the couple to hide their operation more easily, the agents said.      

In that house, agents said they found 42 rocks of crack cocaine hidden in the woman's clothes as well as 78,000 colons ($158.84) in cash and 300,000 colons ($610.94) worth of jewelry.  They also found the radios that the pair allegedly used to protect their operation, agents said. 

Wildlife fund offers
conservation scholarships

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A scholarship offered by the World Wildlife Fund is seeking to support Central American students who are taking conservation courses that last no more than a year. 

The organization is especially interested in women, or persons who work for non-governmental organizations, it said. 

“We give priority to candidates who study themes related to climate change, forests, fresh water, oceans, coasts, species and toxins that form part of the world priorities of our organization,” said Ana Isabel Estrada, the fund's head of grants.

Students wishing to apply can do so until Jan. 13 at aestrada@wwfca.org.  The scholarship is worth approximately $7,600, the fund said.  The course the student wishes to use the money for must start after July 1, 2006 and before June 30, 2007. 

Our reader's opinion

He disputes statistics
provided by Jo Stuart

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading Jo Stuart’s column in the Friday, Nov. 4, edition of A.M. Costa Rica, I decided to do some checking.  According to the World Health Organization, her facts are just plain wrong on life expectancy and infant mortality.  Unless the WHO is misinformed, the life expectancy in Costa Rica and the United States is exactly the same.  By the way, it’s the females who get to live to be 80 years old. Men predecease them by five years in both countries.

As far as the infant mortality rate is concerned, in Costa Rica, it is 11 males and 9 females per 1,000 births. While in the United States it is 9 males and 7 females per 1,000 births.  Again her facts are  incorrect.

When quoting statistics in an article, it would also be nice to have the name of the reporting agency, not just “charts comparing various countries,” so the figures can be verified.

I don’t want to be too hard on Jo Stuart, but accuracy in reporting is crucial for credibility.

I know she loves Costa Rica, and does an excellent job of  writing about the paradise she found in her adopted country.

On occasion she will raise my blood pressure, and other  times she calms me down.  I guess that’s what keeps me reading her stories.
Al Loria
New York

EDITOR'S NOTE; Mr. Loria's statistics are identical to those from 2003 on the World Health Organization Web page. Jo Stuart's main point was that Costa Rica has raised itself to first world status with a nearly universal health plan.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 7, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 220

When normal words take a walk on the dark side
No creer que porque el perro lleva el hocico estirado es porque va silbando.

“Don’t believe that just because a dog has a long snout he can whistle.”

The meaning of today’s dicho is that what may often appear obvious at first glance may not turn out to be true. In other words, things are not always as they seem. Or, as George and Ira Gershwin so aptly wrote: “It ain’t necessarily so.” 

Take, for example, the Spanish language. Hundreds of perfectly good Spanish words have double meanings, and a person can end up in a lot of trouble by using them the wrong way or in the wrong place.

Let’s start with the word papaya. In Costa Rica we all know the papaya as a kind of fruit, elongated and green on the outside, and bright orange on the inside with many black seeds down the middle. Most people consider it quite delicious, and there is nothing wrong with using the word papaya in Central America.

In many parts of the Caribbean basin, particularly in Venezuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico, however it’s better to avoid this word. In these countries the word papaya refers to female genitalia. So, you can see that it would be unwise to ask the pretty señorita tending her fruit stand in Maracaibo the price of her lovely papaya. Lechosa is the word to employ in Venezuela, if it is indeed tropical fruit you’re in the market for.

Mango is another kind fruit popular all over Latin America. Of course, we enjoy mangos in Costa Rica too and we call them by that name. But, the word mango has another meaning in tiquicia (Ticoland).  We call our currency mangos in much the same way that North Americans refer to their dollars as “bucks.” So, if you hear a Tico saying that such and such a thing cost him dos mil mangos (two thousand mangos) he simply means that the price was 2,000 colones.  Many of you will also recall from a previous column that the Costa Rican 5000-colon note is referred to as a toucan. This is because the bill carries a toucan’s picture.

Huevos, a perfectly respectable Spanish word, means eggs. And that’s what it means in Costa Rica, too.  But in vulgar usage in Costa Rica and elsewhere it refers to certain features of the male genitalia, in which case it is often pronounced güevos with a hard “g” sound before the “u” replacing the silent “h.” So rather than asking the stock boy at Auto Mercado where he keeps his güevos, perhaps it would be better to save you both considerable embarrassment by rephrasing the question a bit.

Toronjas, which simply means “grapefruits” in standard Spanish, takes on new meaning when used to refer to particular parts of the female anatomy, if you get my drift.

Bolsa, is another seemingly benign word meaning
way we say it

By Daniel Soto


   “bag.” And in Costa Rica that’s all it means. But in Ecuador it is pregnant with peril especially if you go to the market, where eggs are sold in large and small bags depending upon the quantity, and bargaining over the price is common.

It’s not difficult to see how asking ¿cuanto cuesta su bolsita de huevos? (“How much for your little bag of eggs?”) — an innocent enough locution on its surface — might be misinterpreted. 

Costa Ricans themselves don’t always know the differences in meanings of words when traveling outside the country. I have often gone about in South America, for example, making one horrible faux pas after another until someone was finally kind enough to take me aside and explain the colloquial errors in my speech. Then, and only then, did all the smirks and guffaws I was receiving begin to make sense.

I’m sure you have noticed that, as in English, many of these double entendres in Spanish have distinct sexual overtones. I think this happens in all languages to some degree.

Another example is the word rabo, which means “tail” or “backside.” But in Spain rabo also refers to the male member. The same is true of verga, the dictionary definition of which is “mast pole, spar, or yard.” But in colloquial usage it makes exactly the same reference as the English words “cock” or “prick,” which are well known for the double meaning.

In Costa Rica and Colombia a cachucha is a baseball cap. In Spain it is a folk dance from the province of Andalusia. But in Ecuador and Peru cachucha is word of such foul and revolting overtones that it is considered the epitome of crude behavior to utter it in public. In fact, its English equivalent is so equally obscene that I would breach every rule of journalistic decorum should I publish it here.

In short, when in Peru or Ecuador it’s best to just forget the word cachucha even exists. When referring to a “cap” in these countries use the word gorra, and just avoid conversations concerning the folk dances of Andalusia altogether.

Book on Peruvian aid in fight against Walker will be presented  Tuesday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the mid-19th century, a pesky Gringo named William Walker decided to take over parts of Central America and Mexico for the United States in the name of Manifest Destiny.  After an unsuccessful attempt to seize Baja California, Walker headed south and went after Nicaragua.  He wasn't very successful there either though he did declare himself president of Nicaragua for a short while. 

Even the normally tranquil Ticos became enraged enough to declare war on him and eventually they, and the rest of Walker's enemies, successfully booted him from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. 
Such is the topic of a book by Peruvian writer Rosa Garibaldi, but with much more emphasis on the Peruvian support in ousting Walker. 

Tuesday, the book, “La Política Exterior del Perú en la era de Ramón Castilla,” will be presented  at the Salón José Luis Cardona of the Instituto Diplomático Manuel María de Peralta.  The presentation starts at 4 p.m. 

The work also covers the diplomacy and exterior politics which drove the Peruvian government during Walker's filibustering, 1854 to 1857.  In this context, the author explains Perú's support to the campaign against Walker and his eventual defeat, arrest and execution in Honduras.

Police report a total of four murders during a violent weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two people were murdered in Guanacaste this weekend and one person was killed in the Central Valley and another in the southern part of the Provincia de Limón, said Fuerza Pública officers.

Officers arrested a man identified by the last names Vargas Avendaño in relation to the murder of 20-year-old Noel López Blas in Valle de La Estrella Friday.  According to reports, the two got in an argument at Finca 20, near the town in Limón.  As the scuffle escalated, López suffered two bullet wounds in the head, police said.  Officers found a .22-caliber Beretta pistol at the scene, they said. 

Police found a another man dead in Pavas with gunshots in his back Saturday night, they said.  The body of the 29-year-old victim, Roberto Vargas Oviedo, was found in Lomas del Río. 
Two persons were killed in Guanacaste as well.  A Panamanian, Jairo Baltodono Busano, was gunned down in the popular beach town of Tamarindo approximately 3:30 Saturday morning.  Police found his body alongside the main street in the town, they said.  According to his Nicaraguan companion, identified by the last names Bello Castillo, the two were walking down the street after they left a local bar when a car drove by and someone inside shot the man, killing him.          

Police in Tilarán arrested a Nicaraguan in relation to the death of 70-year-old Domingo Hurtado Barquero, they said.  According to police, the 25-year-old suspect identified by the last names Guriel Centeno, stabbed Hurtado once in the neck and twice in the chest approximately 2 a.m. Saturday morning.  After a quick search, police found the murder weapon and at 4 a.m., they arrested Guriel, who police said was in the country illegally and has been deported before.  

Nations of hemisphere split into two camps on trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — The 34-nation Summit of the Americas has concluded here without accord on a topic that came to dominate the gathering: trade within the region. Intense negotiations continued hours after the scheduled close of the two-day event, with President George Bush leaving the gathering ahead of virtually all other leaders.

In the end, delegates agreed to disagree on a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas that would allow goods to transit tariff-free from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. As the last summit participants were preparing to leave Mar del Plata, Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa told reporters a final document was crafted to reflect divergent points of view between two major groups of nations.

He said, "With respect to the FTAA, there were a group of countries that find no obstacle in continuing negotiations within the FTAA as it exists right now. In another paragraph, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela find that conditions do not exist to negotiate the FTAA as proposed."

With the exception of Venezuela, the dissenting nations constitute a regional trade bloc known as Mercosur. Bielsa noted that Mercosur nations believe they have a competitive advantage in producing agricultural goods, and that they do not believe the free trade agreement will go far enough to address sizable agricultural subsidies that exist for farmers in nations like the United States. As a result, he said, Mercosur nations prefer to await the results of the next World Trade Organization meeting next month in Hong Kong, where they expect the topic of agricultural subsidies by wealthy nations to be addressed.
The hemispheric free trade pact has the backing of 29 other summit participants, including the United States. The Bush administration, which argues the agreement would boost prosperity and reduce poverty throughout the hemisphere, had hoped the summit would serve to revive the initiative, which was originally proposed some 10 years ago and which its first architects had envisioned would already be in place by this year.

But if the Summit of the Americas dashed hopes of advancing the free trade agenda, it also appears to have foiled the ambitions of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who, as the gathering was getting underway Friday, boasted that it would be "the tomb" of the trade proposal.

Argentine Foreign Minister Bielsa disagreed. He said, "This is not the end of the FTAA. The FTAA is a side note to a summit that was dealt with something else. It dealt with decent jobs, reducing poverty and democratic governance."

There was no final public appearance by the leaders, and President Bush did not speak with reporters before leaving for Brazil, the second stop on a three-nation trip that will also take the U.S. leader to Panamá. But administration officials are expressing quiet satisfaction with the summit's outcome, saying important topics were discussed and some progress achieved.

The two-day gathering of hemispheric leaders attracted tens of thousands of leftist activists to Mar del Plata from Argentina and beyond. Friday, they marched to protest the presence of President Bush and gave a hero's welcome to President Chavez. Anti-Bush protests descended into violence later in the day, with several dozen local businesses ransacked and looted.

Mar del Plata merchants are shocked and saddened
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — Dozens of business owners returned to a scene of utter destruction in this resort town Saturday. A day earlier, protests turned violent blocks away from where President George Bush and other leaders were gathered for the 34-nation Summit of the Americas. Locals, many of whom had feared such an outbreak of violence, are deeply saddened, dismayed and angry.

One day after scores of masked youths went on a rampage near barricades that formed a security perimeter for the Summit of the Americas, business owners and employees were sweeping up huge mounds of broken glass and debris. Inside a bank, blackened by fire, an automated teller machine was barely recognizable, its outer casing melted.

Passersby shook their heads in disbelief.

Rotisserie chicken vendor Mario Maurino says he and a younger female employee were trapped inside, when club-wielding youths smashed his store-front windows late Friday.

He says, "It was as if I were Public Enemy Number One — I, who come to work and never take a day off. And I felt completely exposed and unprotected. That was the sensation, and I assure you, it is terrifying to feel alone, completely alone."

Maurino says he fell victim to vandals and delinquents, and does not believe those who smashed his chicken shop were the same people who marched peacefully against President Bush earlier in the day.

Asked if he blames President Bush in any way for his misfortune, he waves his hand dismissively.
He says, "No, no, not at all. How could Bush be at fault? He had to come [to the summit]."

Instead, Maurino blames Argentine security forces, who he says were slow to respond to the situation, as well as Argentine officials, whom he described as incompetent. He says the troublemakers had free reign of the streets for more than half-an-hour before police arrived.

Other merchants have made similar complaints, and a local business group says it will petition Argentina's government for reparations. Mar del Plata's mayor has said he will actively support any legal action taken to secure compensation.

The mayhem was concentrated along six city blocks, less than a kilometer away from where leaders at the Summit of the Americas had gathered for a gala dinner. Aside from destroying and looting property, masked assailants hurled rocks and sticks at security forces, who stood their ground behind barricades.

Riot police fired tear gas, and eventually cleared the affected area, making dozens of arrests in the process. No life-threatening injuries were reported.

But intense sorrow is felt in this seaside town, Argentina's No. 1 domestic tourist destination, known for magnificent beaches, vibrant night life and, until now, tranquil repose. In the middle of Friday's melee, a distraught pharmacy owner, hoarse from shouting, pleaded with rampaging youths to spare her business.

She said, "Boys, not the pharmacy! This is a pharmacy of Mar del Plata, which has nothing to do [with the summit]. We are all against President Bush, but please do not punish my people, my city." Her plea was in vain.

Bush and Lula da Silva say there is common ground
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush is in Brazil where he has met with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and will deliver the only speech of his three-nation trip to Latin America.

This is the president's first visit to Brazil, the largest country in South America and one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

President Lula, a former labor leader, is far to the left of Bush on the political spectrum. But following their talks, both stressed their desire to find common ground. The Brazilian leader said that, despite their differences, relations are good.

"When I was elected president, there were those who foresaw the deterioration of relations between Brazil and the United States. They were roundly mistaken," said Lula.

"Relations between Brazil and the United States are essential and they are strong," agreed Bush.

But Brazil was one of five countries to take a stand at the just ended Summit of the Americas against U.S.-backed negotiations on a hemispheric free-trade zone. And President Lula left no doubt he believes U.S. agricultural subsidies remain a big obstacle to progress. "We are working to negotiate the removal of unjustified barriers to our bilateral trade," added  Lula.

President Bush responded by saying the best way to address the subsidy dispute is through the current round of World Trade Organization talks, which enjoy
strong support from both Brazil and the United States. A ministerial-level WTO meeting in Hong Kong next month hopes to iron out differences on the issue.

"And we agreed to work together to advance the round. It is in the workers of Brazil's best interest that WTO [the World Trade Organization] advance," he said.

Earlier, Bush met in private with members of the Brazilian business community and sat down for a question and answer session with a group described as young leaders.

One participant asked him about tensions between the United States and Latin America, saying some in the Southern Hemisphere believe that, in its zeal to promote democracy, the Bush administration is forcing its policies on other countries.

Bush said he wants nations to develop democracies that conform to their own traditions and customs. But he added, there are certain things that all democracies believe in, including freedom of speech. He said that freedom allowed peaceful demonstrators to express their views during the Summit of the Americas Friday and Saturday in Argentina.

"I expect there to be dissent," noted Bush. "That is what freedom is all about. People should be allowed to express themselves. And so, what happened in Argentina happens in America. That is positive."

There were protests in Brasilia during the president's brief visit, but they were small in comparison to those in Argentina. From Brazil, Bush travels to Panamá, the last stop on his three-nation visit to South America.

Jo Stuart
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