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(506) 223-1327               Publsihed Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 225                  E-mail us
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Executive branch decided to go low-key on treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch has canceled a public ceremony scheduled for Wednesday where President Óscar Arias Sánchez would validate passage of the free trade treaty with the United States and other Latin countries.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the president's brother and minister of the Presidencia, said that the ceremony was canceled so that opponents of the treaty would not get the wrong idea and that existing divisions in the society would not be aggravated.

Left unsaid was the possibility of major protests and violence from those still fighting to shelve the treaty. 
The ceremony was supposed to be held at Teatro Melico Salazar in downtown San José.

Instead, the president and others will hold a small ceremony Nov. 20 after the weekly consejo de gobierno or cabinet meeting.

The treaty passed in a referendum Oct. 7. Members of the Asamblea Legislativa where the government has stitched together a two-thirds majority still have to approve a dozen laws that put the treaty into effect. That has to be done by the end of January. Opponents are focussing on these proposed laws as a way to sidetrack the treaty.

Rodrigo Arias said that the ceremony at the theater could have been misinterpreted.


News from California hospital appears to be good
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The word from Palo Alto, California, is that 2-year-old twin girls from San José have been separated successfully by two teams of surgeons.

The girls, Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha Arias, have been at the hospital since July preparing for their surgery that has been characterized as very risky. The girls were joined at the chest and stomach. They shared a single liver and portions of a dual heart.

Surgeons spent all morning Monday separating them and conducting major liver and heart surgery so that each could survive. The latest reports from Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital was that the girls were stable.

Even so, they face more surgery to repair irregularities in their hearts.  Yurelia has a congenital heart problem, said the hospital.  Fiorella has pulmonary artery stenosis, a narrowing of her left main pulmonary artery, the hospital said.

There were no formal announcements from the hospital, and a Web page dedicated to the girls has not been updated. A press conference is scheduled for today.

Surgeons and physicians at Packard Children’s Hospital are donating their time and expertise to treat Yurelia and Fiorella, said the hospital. In addition, the hospital is covering the expense of all medical and clinical care. Mending Kids International is paying for the children’s transportation and housing. The parents, José Rocha and Maria Elizabeth Arias were there.

Carlos Esquivel, a Costa Rican who is a liver specialist at the hospital, participated in the surgery.

The effort was supposed to take about 12 hours,
motehr kissing twins
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital photo
The twin's mother, Maria Elizabeth Arias, lays on a kiss.

diagram of cojoined twins
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital graphic
Diagram shows how the twins were joined at the chest and stomach and shared two vital organs.

but surgeons needed but four hours.

In August surgeons inserted skin expanders, similar to balloons, to stretch the skin so that they would be able to cover the area of the operation once the twins were separated.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 225

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Our readers' opinions
Banco San José praised
for its customer service

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to various readers letters, I would like to share my positive experiences with the Banco San José, of which I have been a member of for the last five years.  I have lived in Costa Rica for the last seven years.

Like many people here, I find the national banks to be slow and horribly inefficient. Good luck if you have any kind of problem with them.   It's hard enough to get something simple done, when you are abiding by procedures.  And yes, I speak Spanish at a near-fluent level.

Contrast this with Banco San José.  Their banks are clean and modern. When Banco Elca collapsed about four to five years ago or so, a rumor went out that Banco San José was next to collapse.    Long lines started forming in front of all the branches, with people desperate to get their money out. 

How did Banco San José handle this?  They opened late and brought in truckloads of cash in a show of stability so that everyone got the money that they wanted to withdraw.   Crisis averted.

In terms of my own experiences in dealing with Banco San José, I have nothing but praise for their customer service.  My favorite example is when I was in Colombia, I tried to take out money twice from an ATM with my Banco San José debit card. The machine gave me a message saying both times that there was a transmission error.   I searched around, and found another ATM that worked.

When I got back to Costa Rica, I found out that money had actually been withdrawn from my account both times.   I went into Banco San José without much hope. Here I was, a foreigner, and tried to withdraw money from my Costa Rican bank in Colombia, and was claiming that there was an error, and I had no ATM receipts or anything to prove this.  

The customer service person gave me a form to fill out, and lo and behold, four days later, the money was back in my account, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

Banco San José is a bank I heartily recommend, perhaps not to store your full bankroll there, but it's by far the best bank I have dealt with in Costa Rica in dealing with people.

Shaun Dolen
Santa Ana

Banks and credit card firms
could fix the problems


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

When my wallet was stolen in the feria of Santo Domingo in 2000, within a few minutes my Visa from the U.S.A. was used in Los Yoses to charge $300 for a purchase.

I reported the loss of card and the charge to my bank in Maryland, and they immediately reversed the charge pending investigation and gave me the name and address of the merchant a little later and requested the original signed document from the merchant. He never supplied it, so the charge remained null.

I went to see the merchant, told him that it was false. $300 was also charged to my Banco Cuscatlan Mastercard (or VISA I don't remember).  Banco Cuscatlan would not reverse the charge nor would they give me adequate identification and address of the merchant. They gave me a name which did not appear in the phone book nor was there any business license issued.

They claimed that their credit card business was processed by Credomatic (I believe that is a subsidiary of Banco San José) and that they would not give out merchant information.

Banco Cuscatlan claimed there was nothing they could do to rectify the theft. They said I would have to take it to the Judicial Investigating Organization, which I did.

Only after someone was convicted of the theft could they take action. The OIJ agent said that Credomatic would not divulge any information about the merchant and the whole thing died after several visits to OIJ in Heredia. Soon I turned in all my Cuscatlan cards.

Over the years they have lost much more than enough business to have paid the loss. If what I was told was true, the real culprit is bad laws favoring the thief and the cooperating merchant, both of whom must be aware that for small amounts there is no real recourse as now our local OIJ won't even process a claim for $300 as that costs more than the loss and they are overloaded.

I found the procedure in Australia was the same as Maryland. If a cardholder made claims that were false and the merchant submitted a valid voucher, he would soon lose his card. If the merchant submitted invalid charges, he would soon lose his right to accept credit cards. That system is largely self policing and works well.

I use my U.S.A. Visa widely including over the Internet and when a merchant cheats, they have reversed the charges on several occasions. The Costa Rican system is not user friendly. If you really need it, you just have to take your chances.

Credomatic, the regulators, the banks, or the Legislature could fix the problem if they were interested.

Joe Lassiter
Playa Hermosa, Guancaste

Stateside pollution standards
urged for U.S. firms overseas


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading Mr. Crows article, I have rethought my thinking on some matters.

Costa Rica is basically a giant national forest. If you decided to move here, money making projects are limited.

It is a place to retire or to work out of. Costa Ricans should themselves clean up the trash and think more eco friendly.

We, as Americans, can help with letting our government know in Washington that American companies who do business out of the U.S. must conform to the same pollution practices that we have in the States. The companies are still getting a deal with the labor cost, so they should keep there business clean as in the States

Let your congressman or woman know in an e-mail to promote worldwide pollution standards for all American companies.
Greg Bianchi
Leesville, Louisiana
 
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 225



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Symphony conductor is a big supporter of music education
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mugging at gunpoint could have robbed Costa Rica's Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional of its new conductor just as he was beginning the job, but the conductor, Chosei Komatsu,
did not turn his back on San José, and now the next generation of musicians is feeling the benefit.

Eating ice cream in the same hotel outside which he was mugged in 2004, the sweet-toothed conductor recounts how the media assumed that he would flee the country immediately.

"I told them I would fulfill my job," he said. "Musical education
conductor Chosei Kamatsu
Chosei Komatsu
can help to abate the rising violence in this country. I want to put violins instead of guns into the hands of the children."

Last month Komatsu saw a big step forward, as the government of his home country, Japan, finally agreed to a $500,000 donation to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and the Instituto Nacional de Musica.

The money, which Komatsu asked for when he was appointed in 2003, has gone towards replacing 25-year-old tubas and other important instruments for the orchestra, as well as getting better facilities for the educational institute.

Komatsu said he knows that it is important to get children interested from a young age, as he first became determined to follow a career in conducting as a 4-year-old watching Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan in action on television.

With a waiting list 3,000 people long, the institute seems to be inspiring similar enthusiasm in Costa Rica's youngsters.

"One of the reasons that the Costa Rican symphony orchestra is great to work with is that it is 98 percent Tico. Only a couple are from foreign countries, which is very unusual, and it has a lot to do with the education system here.'

Komatsu has been intent on upgrading the quality of the performers that come to work with the orchestra since he started working in San José.

World-class soloists, such as this week's pick, clarinetist James Campbell, join him on the stage every couple of weeks during the orchestra's nine-month season.

"I think the subscribers seem to be enjoying the concerts more. We are now doing world premieres of music from
Costa Rican composers each year, which are received very well." he said.

However, he looks back at a project that he undertook outside the symphony as one of his most successful undertakings here. He collaborated with his wife, American singer Christine Komatsu from Indiana, to direct Opera Costa Rica's 2005 production of "Madame Butterfly," which sold out to rave reviews.

"My wife produced the show and brought over all the kimonos from Japan herself," said Komatsu. "It was a beautiful performance, and she was recognized by La Republica as artist of the year for that production. They've never recognized my work like that!"

Komatsu is lucky that he is so successful in using music as a form of expression.  Although he's been here for three years and intends to stay for at least two more, his Spanish is still augmented by hand gestures and body language.

"I only use Spanish for rehearsals, he said. "And then it doesn't extend much further than good afternoon and good morning. Conductors shouldn't speak that much. Communication is through music and gesture, and orchestras hate conductors that talk too much. Words are a last resort."

His Spanish knowledge is not helped by the fact that he is only in Costa Rica for 16 weeks a year.  He spends the rest of his time dashing between his home in Orlando, Florida, and his second job as director of Japan's Central Aichi Symphony Orchestra.

"Disneyland is only an option on the rare occasions that me and my wife get more than a couple of nights in Orlando. As soon as the next concerts are finished, I'll be on a plane back to Japan for Christmas, but it won't be for a holiday. I'll be conducting the Christmas and New Year concerts there."

Pianist Brian Ganz will join him for the last two concerts of 2007, which will mark 20 years since President Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Komatsu is hoping that Arias will attend.

Next season's line-up has just been announced, and Komatsu is certain to be a regular at his downtown hotel for at least another couple of years, but he is vague about where the future will take him after that.

"In every concert I am working with people I have chosen to work with and every single moment is important," he said. "Wherever I am led afterwards, wherever the Supreme Being leads me or whatever assignment is placed in front of me, as long as I am doing that, I will be a very lucky man."


As waters recede, engineers assess the infrastructure damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As water recedes on the Caribbean coast and in the northern zone, emergency commission engineers are making lists of the damage.

So far they found 100 stretches of road and 38 bridges damaged to some degree by the high water. The commission estimated that it invested 100 million colons (about $192,000) during the three-day emergency.

The downpours, prompted by a cold front, caused flooding and landslides in the cantons of Upala, Sarapiquí, Pococí, Guácimo, Siquirres, Matina, Limón centro and in Talamanca, according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

In addition to the road and bridge damage, 50 drainage systems were affected, four dikes were breached and 75 water wells were contaminated, said the commission. Some 1,500 persons were affected directly, the commission said.

The Chirripó-Matina, the Tortuguero, the Reventazón-
Parismina and the Telire-Sixaola were the rivers that did the most damage, as well as the rivers in the Sarapiquí watershed.

Some 18 shelters were opened with 741 persons taking advantage of the assistance, said the commission.

A lot of the expense from the storm was in the renting of machinery, providing humanitarian assistance and shipping supplies, said the commisison.

Still an alert hangs over Matina and the Talamanca.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the weather is reverting to what is typical this time of year as the season changes from rainy to dry. Isolated showers are predicted in the afternoon for the Central Valley and in the northern zone. Downpours are predicted for the south Pacific, which is the last part of the country to welcome the dry season.

Temperatures will continue colder. San José saw an overnight low of 15.1 C, which is about 59 F., a very chilly temperature for Costa Ricans.



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Memorial for those killed in Vietnam marks 25th anniversary
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Like most capital cities, Washington, D.C., has its share of monuments and memorials.  Today one of those monuments, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, marks its 25th anniversary.  The once controversial memorial has become a powerful symbol and a place of healing for many Americans.

The names of more than 58,000 Americans who were killed during the Vietnam War  are etched in stone, on two 75-meter long, black granite walls along with the year the war began, 1959, and the year it ended, 1975. 

"To see 58,000 names carved into black marble is extremely moving," says Vietnam veteran Len Funk, who knew a number of the men whose names are on the wall.

He remembers the day the wall was dedicated 25 years ago as “a chance to gather and come out as you might say.”

“This was a difficult war to come back from,” Funk recalls.  “We weren't really welcomed and a lot of us were struggling with inner issues.”

Fellow Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs describes the era as “very divisive.”  “There were major protests in Washington and other cities,” he recalled. “I felt there was a need for something to bring recognition to the veterans of Vietnam.  The memorial was my idea as a way to do it."

Scruggs founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and seeded the project with $2,800 of his own money.

Annemarie Emmett has volunteered at the memorial for 20 years, greeting tourists, friends, family members, and veterans of the Vietnam War.  "I still do meet veterans who introduce themselves and say, "This is my first visit.  I served from '67 to '68. I couldn't come here until today.'"
Mike Bernowski, who came from Howell, Michigan, for the 25th anniversary is one of those veterans.  "I've got a lot of friends that have said this has given them some closure, and I guess that is maybe what I'm looking for, too."

Many Americans visit the wall not only to honor loved ones, but the memorial itself.  Elvis Carden came from Atlanta, Georgia, to sing an original composition, “We Cry Together at the Wall,” at a special event in honor of the 25th anniversary.

"All veterans are touched in different ways with the wall,” Carden says.  The wall is probably the most healing and best experience of any Vietnam vet."

Today, many visitors are too young to remember the Vietnam War, but the current war in Iraq has raised their interest.

More than 100,000 'artifacts' have been left at the wall, including clothing, medals, photos and letters

Surprisingly, this memorial that has moved more than one generation was not well received when 21-year-old Maya Lin’s design was chosen in a competition among 1,400 other entries.  Described by the architect herself as resembling “a wound in the earth that is slowly healing,” it was, to say the least, unconventional.

"There were some people who actually stopped the entire project, people in the U.S. Congress.  So we needed a compromise,” said Scruggs.

The compromise was to add a statue depicting three soldiers, who overlook the wall below.  But it is the wall that attracts more than four million visitors every year.  Scruggs says it will continue to long after the last veteran of the Vietnam war is gone.  "The visitation will continue, because it is a great work of architecture."


Mexican officials find 165 illegal immigrants hiding in a relief supply truck
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in México say they have taken into custody 164 illegal Central American immigrants who were inside a truck that was supposed to be carrying aid to victims of recent flooding in the southern state of Tabasco.
The national migration institute says 159 Guatemalans and five Hondurans were hiding in the truck when it was stopped for a routine search. The driver was arrested.

Many Central American migrants pass through southern Mexico en route to the United States to seek work.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 225



U.S. women's volleyball squad remains undefeated in World Cup play in Japan
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Logan Tom has scored 19 points to lead the United States to a 3-0 win over South Korea and keep the Americans undefeated at the volleyball Women's World Cup in Japan.

Danielle Scott-Arruda added 17 points Sunday to help the American to their eighth straight win, 25-21, 25-19, 25-23. South Korea's record fell to 2-6.

In other matches in Kumamoto, Cuba winless defeated Thailand 3-1 (25-22, 23-25, 25-22, 25-13) to improve to ms bidding for three berths at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
6-2, while Brazil shut out the Dominican Republic, 3-0.

In Sapporo, Italy also kept its undefeated record intact with a 3-0 (25-13, 25-21, 25-17) win over 1-7 Peru. Poland upset Serbia 3-2 (24-26, 25-23, 25-12, 19-25, 15-10) to improve to 3-5, while Serbia dropped to 6-2. Host Japan blanked Kenya 3-0 (25-14, 25-12, 25-8) to improve its record to 6-2, while Kenya has lost all eight of its matches.

The event moves to Nagoya for fourth round play beginning Wednesday. The tournament, which continues until Sunday, features 12 teams bidding for three berths at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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