A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327       Published Monday, Nov. 21, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 230          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Key aspect of personal security is a low profile
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For expats, the rules to avoid street and home robbery are simple, and they may be boiled down to one general dictum:

Don't have anything that you can't afford to lose and keep a low profile.

That means women should not have expensive jewelry at home or away from home. And men should not flaunt wealth either. A $20 Timex is the appropriate timepiece.

The discussion of security measures is important because several types of crimes have been in the news recently. These ideas are based on discussions with expats, years of observations and review of daily reports of criminal activity provided by police agencies.

In addition to street robberies and home invasions, carjackings, called bajonazos in Spanish, are becoming more frequent.

In Escazú and Santa Ana, a gang of heavily armed men have been breaking into luxury homes, holding the occupants hostage while they loot the places. The case was reported here Friday. More than 20 such crimes are under investigation.

There are no ways to prevent forced entry into a home if the criminals are motivated. Each week television stations show judicial investigators conducting raids on heavily protected homes. They simply chain the portón or entry gate to a truck and rip the fabricated metal into scrap. A hand-held ram makes short work on the dwelling's main door.

Criminals can do this too, or they can use trickery. In either case, they are prepared and the homeowners are not. Portones, rejas and other types of security bars are useful against petty thieves. But a well-organized, heavily armed gang can overcome any resistance, including security guards.

So the best idea is to have nothing worth stealing.  Even inside the home. In this way, expats are better disposed than Costa Ricans. Expensive jewelry can be left in a safety deposit box in the home country, and household goods are purchased locally.

Even more important is the rule to live modestly. Even the better-heeled expats live in modest homes, drive older cars and do not flaunt their goods. The alternative is to live as wealthy Costa Ricans, surrounded by armed guards on sprawling, secured estates and traveling in armored limos.

On the street, many expats carry their personal papers and money in neck pouches.
Even there they keep the minimum: a local credit card, a photocopy of residency papers. This newspaper has detailed several street robberies involving staffers Nov. 2 and Nov. 17.

Street robbers have been known to pull pierced earings off the ears of women and cut off fingers to remove rings. Frequently muggings take place with the use of a military style headlock that causes unconsciousness. A gang of criminals three years ago mugged hundreds of persons, including at least 30 expats, that way in the Avenida 1 and calles 7 and 9 area. They never were caught.

Calls on cell telephones are better made in restaurants or other secure areas instead of on the sidewalk. A 24-hour black market exits to buy stolen cell telephones in San José.

Of course, trickery exists on the streets where English-speaking crooks, including the notorious Viper Woman, lure expats and tourists to rendezvouses with drinks laden with knockout drops.

There is little defense against gunmen who descend on automobiles at stoplights. A jeweler took a bullet in the chest Friday and he pulled away to avoid a robbery of his car.

Luxury cars and four-wheel drive vehicles are the most sought, and the best response are carjacking systems that turn off the motor if a driver does not answer an automatic request for a code. Then there are the tracking devices that allow police to locate the stolen vehicle.

A delivery vehicle hijacked in Atenas was located last week because the owner had installed such a device.

Children present a special concern. So far most kidnappings in Costa Rica have been for the collection of debts. Foreigners have not been ransom targets. Nevertheless, expat parents here make sure children go to and from school with escorts, and rumors exist of parents implanting tiny locator transmitters under a child's skin, although radio locators in wristwatches and costume jewelry may be more common.

Statistically, the bulk of the street crimes are in the San José core, and some expats refuse to come to town for that reason.

With Christmas coming, police will be beefing up their already strong presence, in part to encourage downtown shopping and protect workers who get their annual bonuses.

Security and law and order are strong themes in the presidential campaigns, so more resources might be directed toward crime-stopping activities next year.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 21, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 230

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Death not a joke topic,
foreign minister says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The death of a Nicaraguan burglar in the jaws of a rottweiler has prompted a wave of dark jokes that has drawn official condemnation from the Pacheco administration.

Robert Tovar Faja, the foreign minister, expressed his profound disapproval of the jokes, which have been making the rounds as text messages and on the Internet.

The jokes seem to come from the contempt Costa Ricans have for Nicaraguans and the Tico hatred of thieves. Tovar's comments came in advance of a visit by a Nicaraguan prosecutor to the scene of the death and to the fiscalia or prosecutor's office in Cartago. The lack of action by Fuerza Pública officers already has drawn a resolution from the Nicaraguan legislature.

The man lay in the control of the guard dog for some 90 minutess Nov. 10 until firemen used a high-pressure hose to drive the animal away. The man died of blood loss caused by multiple bites. He was trying to break into a salvage yard and had a long list of prior arrests.

"These messages, distributed by private media by a few Costa Ricans who do not represent the people of Costa Rica are in no way acceptable," Tovar said in a statement. However, Costa Rican office workers report they have recieved hundreds and hundreds of such messages, so those sending them must be more than a few.

A graphic joke also mocked the upcoming presidential elections that have failed to strike a chord with the public. An Internet graphic showed photos of presidential hopefuls and included a shot of a rottweiler as a favored candidate.

Carjacking attempt
leads to four arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers arrested four persons suspected of an attempted carjacking in Tibás Friday morning that left the victim with a gunshot wound, the officers said.

The victim, 52-year-old Miguel Antonio Prieto Castillo was driving through the town in a Honda Rav Four when four persons in a Hyundai Accent intercepted Prieto and shot him in the throat, officers said.

Police were notified soon after and arrested four persons 200 meters west of the Casa Kalúa in Tibás in connection with the shooting, they said.  

In the subject's vehicle, officers said they found three two-way radios as well as a ski mask.  Two of the suspects  were 17-year-old youths, officers said.  The other two were a Peruvian man identified by the last names Angulo Palomino and a 25-year-old woman identified by the last names Quesada Hidalgo, officers said. 

Prieto, a jeweler, went to Hospital México, officers said. 

Gold mine returns
to normal operations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Glencairn Gold Corp., which since Nov. 3, has been negotiating with strikers at its Limón, Nicaragua operation, announced Friday that it had reached an agreement and operations had resumed.  Glencairn also has a mine in Miramar, near Puntarenas.

The strikers were made up of the members of one of the three unions working at the mine.  The company had reportedly reached an agreement with all three unions regarding workers' benefits, but one of the unions blocked the road into the work site demanding that the benefits package only be extended to them, the company said. 

Friday, Glencairn said that the unions have made an unconditional agreement with the company that future disputes will be resolved according to the resolution mechanisms in the collective agreement signed between Glencairn and the unions earlier this year. 

Driver's license office
to be open later in city

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Starting today drivers can renew their licenses after work in San José.

The Departamento de Licencias de la Dirección General de Educación Vial is extending its closing hour from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. 

The new schedule involves only the busiest one located near Plaza González Víquez, the ministry said. 

The department's other offices are in Guápliles, Puntarenas, Pérez Zeledón, Liberia, Limón, San Ramón and San Carlos.  They will be open only from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as they are now.   

A Costa Rican driver's license costs 4,000 colons ($8.14) the first time around and is good for two years.  A renewal costs 10,000 colons ($20.35) and expires after five years.  For those who need only duplicates, 5,000 colons ($10.17) will suffice, the ministry said. 

Desamparados youth band
will debut next Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The youth band of Desamparados is scheduled to play its first performance Sunday in the Parque Centenario of that cantón.

The musicians, aged between 13- and 21-years are directed by Miguel Ángel Peña Mora, a native of Desamparados who has also taught for 15 years at the Instituto Nacional de la Música.

The show starts at 11:30 a.m. and is the first of several shows throughout the canton in the coming months. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 21, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 230

Another storm hits — This time it's in the southwest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though the rainy season is traditionally over by mid-November, it seems to be sticking around this year.

Tropical Depression Gamma formed off the coast of Belize Friday and although Honduras is bearing the brunt of the rain and damage, Costa Rica is still getting enough to swell rivers and flood houses.

The storm killed 14 persons, 11 of which were in Honduras, said the A.M. Costa Rica wire services.  In addition 13 persons there are missing, the wire services said.  The bad weather is also blamed for a plane crash that killed the pilot and two passengers in Belize. The plane was heading towards a resort lodge owned by U.S. filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, the wire services said. 

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias was paying particular attention Friday to the cantons of Corredores, Golfito and Coto Brus.  All are in the southwest part of the country.

The commission estimated that 600 persons in 73 communities had been affected by the rains in the southwest.  In response, the commission opened a temporary shelter in Corredores making a total of seven housing those affected by Gamma.

The three shelters in Corredores are holding 191 persons.  In Golfito, 253 persons are living in
temporary shelters while 98 other evacuees have found space with friends and family, the commission said.  The last shelter, in Coto Brus, houses 35 persons, the commission said. 

In total, Gamma has damaged 511 homes through rain and fattened rivers, the commission said.  Coto Brus, Buenos Aires and Corredores have 26 damaged roads, seven damaged bridges and four broken dikes, said the commission.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional estimates that Costa Rica is out of Gamma's range for the most part.  Sunday night, the storm was moving north at 2 mph off the coast of Belize.  Forecasters predict the storm will have shifted east and begun to subside by this morning.  By Tuesday morning, the storm should be approximately half way between Honduras and Jamaica, the U. S. National Hurricane Center said. 

In the storm's wake, U. S. military helicopters have joined Honduran aircraft in flying aid to survivors along the Caribbean coast who have been cut off by flooding and mudslides, the wire services said.

As a precautionary measure, the emergency commission is maintaining a red alert for Corredores and Golfito and a yellow alert for Coto Brus.  Communities bordering rivers and in areas prone to mudslides should be extremely careful, the commission said.
Gamma is the 24th named storm of this year's record breaking hurricane season. 

The cat in the bag meets the unwraped tamale
Destaparse el tamal.

“To unwrap the tamale.” This dicho corresponds fairly well to the English expressions “to let the cat out of the bag,” or “to spill the beans.” We can say destaparse el tamal whenever some secret is revealed about someone or some group. But you can also use it when you discover something that has been hidden specifically from you. For example, say that your son kicked his soccer ball through the living room window and repairs it without telling you. But when you notice the ill-fitting pane anyway, that is detaparse el tamal.

I guess this saying came about because the banana leaves of a Costa Rican tamale conceal the really good part, and have to be pealed away in order to enjoy what’s inside. In much the same way every Costa Rican enjoys revealing a good chisme, “a juicy piece of gossip.”

Of course we all know how important tamales are during the holiday season in Costa Rica. They are quite different from Mexican tamales, and our tradition dictates that every household prepares tamales to share with family and friends during the Christmas to New Year week of fiestas. You may recall that we published a recipe for Costa Rican tamales some months ago. We may do so again before this coming holiday season so you will be prepared to celebrate Christmas Costa Rican style.

I especially look forward to making tamales with the family this year because we recently bought a wood-burning stove for our house. So we’ll be preparing our tamales in a most traditional manner on the little old-fashioned stove. The house will smell wonderful and, since those chilly vientos navideños, “Christmas winds,” can be rather fierce where we live in Santo Domingto de Heredia, our stove will make everything cozy and warm.

I love spending the holidays with the family. I can’t imagine it otherwise. Last year we spent them in the States, this year in Costa Rica. There will be lots of happiness in our little house in Santo Domingo, and we will remember the ones who have left us this past year, especially our brother Mario who died in September. But his spirit will be there with us as we remember with love all the wonderful times we shared together.

You may recall that last week I ended the column with alli nos vidrios. Well, now for the explanation: Like the word ahí, alli means “there,” not “over there” that would be alla. But alli also means “then,” “thereat,” and “at that moment.” Vidrio, of course, means “pane of glass,” or “glazing.” But in this case, vidrio is being used to play on the word vimos, which comes from the verb ver meaning “to see.”
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

 I know, I know, it’s a bit of a stretch, but alli nos vidrios means “we see each other then,” or “we see each other there.” It’s not some antique form or anything so quaint and scholarly as that. It’s just what we call pachucada or “street talk.”

Pachucadas are not really double entendres. They are actually more like speaking in code. Pachucadas are used for the sole purpose of making it more difficult for the uninitiated to understand what is being said

Another example of a pachucada is ¿Que me iise? For ¿Que me dice? Or  “what you can tell me?” It is a way of asking people how they are doing. The usual response — in Costa Rica at least — is  pura vida. But if your not feeling all that great you might respond pa’l tigre or “for the tiger.” In other words, you’re feeling so bad that you may as well be thrown to the tigers. It’s sort of like saying in English that you “feel like the devil.”
So here’s a little dialogue the employs today’s dicho along with a whole slew of pachucadas. Let’s see if you can figure it out without the aid of your Tico friends, and next week we’ll publish the meaning in English:

_ ¡Ydiay, mae! ¿Que me iice?

_ Nada estoy pa’l tigre.

_ ¿Cómo así?

_ Naa es que ya no breteo alla

_ ¡Ydiay! ¿Porque?

_ Es que se me “Destapo el Tamal”

_ ¡Ydiay! Juemialma

_ Si mae, que furris, casi me meten al bote.

_ ¡Que gacho!

_ Si, Bueno mae. Alli nos vidrios

Many of the national publications are claiming that real estate in Costa Rica is grossly overpriced and that the time has come and gone for the land of Pura Vida. True or False?

Well, if you read the classified ads in the English-speaking countries it would seem that a small lot on the beach can run easily in excess of $250,000 and a home in the mountains of trendy Escazú can run well over $500,000. And even a basic home in Heredia can quickly top $300,000.

So . . . has Costa Rican real estate become too expensive?

Can the average "Gringo" still afford to retire here?

The truth? . . . . Take a look at the pictures that are featured here . . . .

Could you retire on a property with views like these?

The properties featured here at CR Home Realty have views like the above . . . and can have a custom home built of top grade quality of between 1,300 and 1,800 sq. ft. . . . and CAN BE PURCHASED FOR BETWEEN $80,000 AND $150,000.  (yes, that includes the land)

. . . minimum lot size almost two acres.

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A.M. Costa Rica

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Are you still spending 70 percent 
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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 21, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 230

World Bank predicts continued economic strength
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Economic growth in much of Latin America and the Caribbean remains strong, said the World Bank.

In a new report, the bank said the strong growth reflects the region's supportive external conditions and an improved domestic policy environment.  Despite a more moderate rate of expansion, economic activity is well above the 2.5 percent average growth rate in the region of the preceding 20 years, the bank said. A specific forecast for Costa Rica was not given.

The report estimated that economic activity in Latin America and the Caribbean increased by some 4.5 percent during 2005, substantially slower than the 5.8 percent recorded in 2004, but much faster than the region's 0.4 percent average growth rate during the preceding three years.  The region's growth was boosted by both strong world demand for the region's exports (particularly oil, coffee and copper, which account for 65 percent of the region’s commodity exports) and low interest rates, according to the report, "Prospects for the Global Economy."

Domestic factors that contributed to the strong performance include previous efforts to open the region to international trade, more responsible budget policy, the introduction of more flexible exchange rates and lower inflation.

A substantial reduction in investor's perceptions of the risk associated with the region also has contributed to improved investment (up 11 percent)
and increased capital inflows, according to the report.
Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru and most of Central America continue to grow at the same rates as in 2004, the bank said.  It estimated that supply constraints and tight monetary policy slowed gross domestic product growth in Brazil to some 3.8 percent in 2005 (down from 4.9 percent in 2004), and also predicted a slowdown in growth in Mexico.

The bank projected regional gross domestic products would increase by 3.6 percent a year during the period 2006-2015, and per capita incomes would rise by 2.3 percent on average during the same period.

Prospects for achieving this kind of healthy expansion have been improved by the substantial reduction over the past several years of the fiscal imbalances and "perverse price incentives that have held back growth," according to the report.

As a result, the area is on track to meet the U.N. Millennium Development goals to cut extreme poverty (people living on less than $1 a day) in half by 2015.

For economic performance in the region to improve further, the bank said national governments will need to consolidate recent policy improvements and put in place key structural micro-policies (in particular, upgrading infrastructure and education and reducing the cost of doing business) to improve competitiveness.

The bank also estimated the world's GDP would grow by 3.2 percent in 2005, down from 3.8 in 2004, and projected stable growth in 2006 prior to a strengthening in 2007.

Study links decaffeinated coffee to 'bad' cholesterol
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Decaffeinated — not caffeinated — coffee may cause an increase in harmful LDL cholesterol, hints a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2005.

The Coffee and Lipoprotein Metabolism study included 187 people, randomized to three groups: one that drank three to six cups of caffeinated coffee a day; another that drank three to six cups of decaffeinated coffee a day; and a third, the control group, that drank no coffee.

Some studies have linked coffee drinking to heart disease, but others have suggested that it is not harmful.

“The problem with the results from these previous studies is that many of them were association studies, which looked broadly at free-living populations and drew associations between lifestyle factors, volitional coffee consumption, and disease risk.   Our study randomized subjects to a specific type and amount of coffee consumption, brewed in a standardized manner, just like a drug study,” said H. Robert Superko, M.D., lead author of the study. He is chairman of molecular, genetic, and preventive cardiology at the Fuqua Heart Center and the Piedmont-Mercer Center for Health and Learning in Atlanta, Ga.

In this study researchers gave participants a nationally popular home-brewed caffeinated coffee and decaffeinated coffee brand, and coffee makers.  Researchers then instructed participants on how to prepare the coffee in a standardized manner and asked them to drink only this coffee.  All participants drank only black coffee.

“Whether coffee has caffeine is not the only thing that differentiates caffeinated from decaffeinated types,” Superko said.  “Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees are often made from different species of beans.  Caffeinated coffee, by and large, comes from a bean species called coffee Arabica, while many decaffeinated coffees are made from coffee Robusta.
The decaffeination process can extract flavonoids and ingredients that give coffee flavor.  So decaffeinated brands usually use a bean that has a more robust flavor.”

Costa Rica grows only Arabica beans.

Researchers measured the level of caffeine in the blood of the participants, as well as levels of the key heart-health indicators before and after the three-month study.

They sought to clearly demonstrate the effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption on key indicators of the "metabolic syndrome," which is the umbrella term for a cluster of several harmful heart disease risk factors. 

Researchers looked at blood pressure, heart rate, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL (good cholesterol), levels of insulin, glucose, non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA — fat in the blood), apolipoprotein B (ApoB — a protein associated with LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein 2 (HDL2 — a type of “really good” cholesterol).

Researchers found no significant changes among the three groups’ levels of blood insulin and glucose, or other major risk factors. 
But they reported for the first time that, after three months of coffee drinking, the decaffeinated group experienced a rise in fatty acids, which is the fuel in the blood that can drive the production of low-density lipoprotein LDL.

ApoB went up 8 percent in the decaffeinated group but did not significantly change in the other two groups.  ApoB is the only protein attached to bad  cholesterol LDL, and studies show that ApoB might be a better predictor of cardiovascular disease risk than one’s LDL level. NEFA, fatty acids, rose an average 18 percent in the decaffeinated group, while it did not change in the other two groups.

“NEFA is the fuel that can drive the increase in ApoB and LDL,” Superko said.  “These results are very surprising and have never been reported before for coffee consumption.  This is the first non-industry-sponsored study of its kind.  Until now, researchers had not reported on a randomized prospective study looking at the mechanism of how a particular kind of coffee consumption increases ApoB and LDL-cholesterol.

“There is a real difference between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee and, contrary to what people have thought for many years, I believe it’s not caffeinated but decaffeinated coffee that might promote heart disease risk factors that are associated with the metabolic syndrome, an expanding heart-health hazard in the United States.”

In measuring HDL cholesterol, researchers looked specifically at HDL2, a type of HDL in which high levels are particularly associated with lower risk of heart disease.  They found that HDL2 didn’t change significantly overall among the three groups in the study.  But in the decaffeinated group, it changed significantly according to participants’ body fat.

For those who had body mass indexes (BMIs) of more than 25 (considered overweight), drinking decaffeinated coffee increased HDL2 by about 50 percent.  But those in the decaffeinated group, who were not considered overweight according to BMI, saw their HDL2 drop by about 30 percent.

“This illustrates to the public that this is not a simple story of one coffee is good, one coffee is bad,” he added.  “It illustrates a concept that is becoming very important in medicine, which is the individualization of treatment.  We have to individualize therapy based on the patient’s characteristics.  It is important for the public to appreciate that one diet or one drug is not the optimal treatment for every patient.”

Coffee drinkers in the United States consume an average of 3.1 cups each day.  However, “if you only drink one cup each day, the results of our study probably have little relevance because at that level your daily coffee dose is relatively low,” Superko said.

Superko said people concerned about increasing fatty acids and LDL cholesterol should think twice about drinking a lot of decaffeinated coffee.  “But those who are overweight and have low levels of HDL2 but normal levels of ApoB, might consider the potential benefit of drinking decaffeinated over caffeinated coffee,” he said.

According to the American Heart Association, whether high caffeine intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease is still under study, however moderate coffee drinking — 1 to 2 cups per day - doesn't seem to be harmful.

Jo Stuart
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