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(506) 223-1327          Published Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 232        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Christmas season kicking off with concert Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas season goes into full swing this week. Thursday an annual concert takes place at Parque Morazán.

This is the event sponsored by the Asociación Costarricense para Organizaciones de Desarrollo, a financial services firm. From 11 a.m. there will be expositions of art work, including paintings, sculptures and crafts. The music starts at 5:30 p.m. Fireworks follow at 8:30 p.m. The firm provides chairs.

The Centro Nacional de la Cultura in the downtown will be hosting its Festival Navideño this weekend with artisans, contemporary dances, storytellers and Costa Rican movies. The event will be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Saturday the Festival de Música Campesina begins at 1 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. at La Sabana. The Fundación Costarricense de Boyeros and the Municipalidad de San José are the organizers.  This is the staging event for what takes place the next day.

Sunday the boyeros or ox cart drivers bring their beasts and statues of saints into San José for the traditional Christmas parade. This is a must-see event for tourists and residents.

Law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they are beefing up patrols all over the country with 3,000 officers with the help of 18,000 private security guards. The alliance will run from Monday to Jan. 26 and include the festivals in Alajuelita, Palmares de Alajuela and Santa Cruz de Guanacaste.

The Teatro Nacional will inaugurate its portal or nativity scene at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1. Choirs will sing there at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3.

The theater will host the XXIII Festival de Coreógrafos Graciela Moreno Dec. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. This event requires an admission. The dancers and the audience are scheduled to leave the theater to perform in the open air, too.
The "Nutcracker" will take over the theater Dec. 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. with an 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. performance Dec. 10 and 17. The ballet also will be presented Dec. 13, 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. This, too, is an admission event.

At the Archivo Nacional in Zapote, the nativity scene will be installed in the front gardens of the agency Dec. 1.

The Museo Nacional has made a change. Now the inauguration of the portal there will be Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 5 p.m.

At the public libraries, the inauguration of the portal or nativity scene will be Dec. 1 in Hatillo at 2 p.m., Heredia, also Dec. 1 at 3 p.m., Limón Dec. 4, Sarchí Norte Dec. 4 and Poás de Alajuela Dec. 8.

The Annual Christmas Dinner Dance, sponsored by the Canadian Club and the Residents Association, will be held at the Cariari Hotel Dec. 2 at 6 p.m.

In Nandayure, Guanacaste, the townspeople are getting ready for the VII Festival Navideño 2006  Dec. 1, 2 and 3.

Also in Guanacaste, in Liberia, the big party is the V Festival Blanca Navidad with a parade and floats at 6 p.m. Dec. 2, on Avenida 25 de Julio.

In Guayabo de Bagaces, the Semana Cultural is six days long, from Dec. 2 to 7 in Guayabo centro.

In Cañas, the illumination of the nativity scene will be Dec. 2 in Parque Central. The III Desfile Navideño will be Dec. 8 at 6 p.m.

In the southern zone, Ciudad Cortés will have a parade for the Festival Navideño Dec. 17 at 6 p.m.

The gigantic Festival de la Luz parade from La Sabana to the downtown takes place Saturday, Dec. 16 with events in the afternoon near la Sabana and the parade after sunset.

Sunday, Dec. 17, the annual Angel of Love concert will take place at the Blanche Brown Theatre, Bello Horizonte, Escazú, The quartet El Ebano will perform for the former Tom & Norman Home for the aged in La Rita de Pococí.

Department store to let public play secret Santa for Triangulos kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local religious group is doing what they can to make sure the spirit of giving spreads to all children of Costa Rica, especially those less fortunate.

Phil and Jill Jones of the Christian organization Blood n Fire, here known as Sangre y Fuego, are teaming up with Cemaco, a local department store chain, to make sure the children living in the precario of Los Triangulos in Tibás, north of San José, are going to get something for Christmas.

This shanty town is home to more than 2,000 residents of which roughly half are children, said Mrs. Jones.  Los Triangulos is an area where people are living in homes made out of whatever building material they can rummage, and because they do not legally own the land, they also face the fear of deportation or relocation on a daily basis, said Mrs. Jones.

Sangre y Fuego, a name taken from a Bible verse, has been organizing the Christmas give-away since 2004, and was able to provide around 800 children with Christmas presents last year.  In Cemaco locations around Costa Rica, there are Christmas trees with the names of children hanging in them like ornaments.  Shoppers pick a name out of the tree and purchase a present to be given to the child for Christmas.  The children are all aged 10 and under.  Cemaco and the Sangre y Fuego organization have set this years goal at 1,000 children. 

Photo courtesy Blood n Fire
Not Santa, but Phil Jones at Cemaco
Blood N Fire is an organization that started in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1991 out of the Vinyard Church.  Since then the organization has grown into an international charity, sporting the slogan “The youth, the poor and the nation,”  Phil Jones, an ordained pastor of Blood n Fire, has been involved in the marginalized area for about five years now.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 232

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
This taxi suffered heavy damage in in a collision with a minibus Tuesday night in Calle 2 about three blocks south of the Catedral Metropolitana.

Surviving bank robber
gets a stiff prison term

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The surviving gunman of the Santa Elena bank attack near Monteverde March 8, 2005, got a 210-year prison sentence Tuesday.

But the three-judge panel in Puntarenas absolved all other entities of liability. The Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, the Delta security firm and the government of Costa Rica were civil defendants.

The net result is that victims and heirs of victims will get no financial compensation.

The gunman is Erlyn Hurtado, 25. He was one of three men who tried to shoot their way in to the Banco Nacional. His two companions, his brothers, were shot dead by guards, and Hurtado ended up inside the bank with hostages. The siege lasted 28 hours and one police officer died in an abortive invasion of the bank. In all nine persons died and 17 suffered injuries, some seriously.

Prosecutors asked for 344 years in prison. That figure was determined by adding up the maximum penalties for the raft of charges facing the man.

Despite the sentence, Hurtado probably will not spend the rest of his life in prison because of Costa Rica's liberal sentencing policies.

Our readers' opinions

A Claude Hope sidelight:
A visit to his nursery

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like to add a little story to add to Dennis Roger's article about impatiens (frankly, I thought the name was impatience) and Claude Hope.

Some years ago I was a personal guide. I had a customer who was a Texas Tech alumnus.  We went to the Irazu Volcano, and on the way back he asked if we were near Cartago. If so he wanted to visit a man who had a nursery near Cartago, who had graduated from Texas Tech.

He gave me his name: Claude Hope. I stopped by a place that happened to be a radio station. The disc jockey, was between records, and I asked if he knew Claude Hope. Immediately his eyes lighted up in admiration.

He told me si, el es muy conocido en Cartago and gave us directions to his nursery. We went to the nursery and asked the guard for Claude Hope. "Oh, si, El Capitan, passe."

We went to the office and the receptionist paged "El Capitan, oficina por favor."

In a few minutes a tall thin man walked in, Claude Hope no less. The customer and Mr. Hope began to talk about Texas Tech. It seems that Mr. Hope was in the first graduating class from Texas Tech, which must have been around 1927.

He said he was raised on a farm near Sweetwater and brought a milk cow to Lubbock to help pay for his expenses. While he was in Costa Rica, he got interested in the impatiens and started the nursery. The nursery was a large operation.

At this time, he was about 92 years old and appeared in good health. He told us he had given the nursery to the Costa Rican employees with the stipulation he could live there until he died. I don’t believe he ever married or had any heirs.

Bobby Ruffín

Some clarification of life
and expense in the U.S.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I must write in response to the letter today from Greg Bianchi and family regarding life in America. I have visited Costa Rica. I plan to live there part time and establish a business. I was born and lived in the U.S. most of my life and now live in Canada. I do concur with Greg’s impressions of Costa Rica — very positive!

But I must take issue with the negative comments about the U.S. Very specifically:

Medical treatment: The U.S. system is hard to beat. Emergency room care is essentially guaranteed to anyone who shows up. If I need an MRI, it may well happen the same day.  As for getting old, my mother-in-law, who is almost 80 years old, pays US$99 per month and for that has worldwide medical coverage, most prescription coverage, physical therapy etc.

As to the comment:  “If you are not rich, everything goes to the government – not your family” does not seem accurate. The exemption from “death taxes” is now well over a million dollars per spouse. A low-income taxpayer pays no income tax at all.

Cost for education: The cost is high. The return on the investment is excellent. That is why many Ticos come to the U.S., especially for post-graduate education. Excellent publicly supported universities cost far less than $30,000 per year. The University of Washington tuition is about $6,000 per year. My daughter attends a law school in Seattle. The costs are about $30,000 and they are fully covered by grants and student loans. According to the OECD, about 28 percent of international students choose to go to the U.S. (2005). That’s more than double the number of any other destination.

My parents are in a convenient adult living facility where they have resources, friends and nearby emergency care providers. Meals are great. Rooms are just as comfortable as home.

Michael Lee
Abbotsford, British Columbia
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 232

Woman with ties here sets precedent for online defamation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman with ties to Costa Rica has won a sweeping California Supreme Court decision that reinforces strong protection against a libel verdict by people who operate online newspapers, blogs and Web sites.

The decision says that online publishers are immune to libel

Ilena Rosenthal
suits when they post potentially defamatory information written by another person.

Print publishers are responsible for all that appears in their publication, even if the material is opinion like a letter to the editor.

Although the ruling is only valid in California, other U.S. states tend to
follow precedents from there and the decision interprets U.S. law.

The woman is Ilena Rosenthal, a San Diego real estate broker who also operates a Web site for breast implant victims.

Ms. Rosenthal is a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and is known to residents here. "I don't feel safe having these people knowing my whereabouts," she said by telephone Tuesday, referring to the persons who sued her.

The case started in 2000 when men identified as Stephen Barrett, Terry Polevoy, and lawyer Christopher Grell sued Ms. Rosenthal for libel. Barrett, a retired psychiatrist, has been an activist against people he considers to be quacks and is a founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud

Ms Rosenthal won lower court decisions, and the Supreme Court case centered on a single comment she had posted about Polevoy, a resident of Ontario, Canada, who operates
healthwatcher.net.  He says there that "Ilena Rosenthalitis - an incurable disease?" and lists more than 50,000 of her Internet postings.

The case hinged on an interpretation of Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act.

“By reaffirming that Congress intended to grant protection under Section 230 to those who provide a forum for the views of others, the court has ensured that the Internet will remain a vibrant forum for debate and the free exchange of ideas,” said Ann Brick, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “Any other ruling would have inevitably made speech on the Internet less free.” The organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

Ms. Rosenthal had posted an e-mail from someone else to a newsgroup. In January 2004, in Barrett v. Rosenthal, the Court of Appeal for the California First District overruled the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed against Ms. Rosenthal for her re-publication on the Internet of someone else’s words.  The court refused to extend any protection under Section 230, which was expressly enacted "to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services," in a manner "unfettered by federal or state regulation."

 "The Supreme Court's opinion strengthens protection for speech on the Internet" said Mark Goldowitz, director of the California Anti-SLAPP Project and counsel for Rosenthal.  "Justice [Carol A.] Corrigan's opinion protects against the 'heckler's veto' chilling speech on the Internet." SLAPP suits, strategic lawsuit against public participation, are a way to shut up people who comment on issues.

Section 230 has been an important means of encouraging the growth of a wide variety of forum sites on the Internet, including Web sites, listservs, and newsgroups, said the ACLU.   Sometimes these sites are hosted by large ISPs such as Yahoo! or America Online, but just as often they are hosted by an individual who simply wants to provide an opportunity for others to express their views on a particular subject, it added in a release.

Windy conditions are expected to hang around for at least two more days
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation has two more days of the wind and cold, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

High winds Monday and Tuesday have taken their toll on trees and structural items not firmly attached.

Temperatures dipped to 15.1 degrees Celsius in San José, the weather institute said.  That is 59 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a low temperature for areas not in the mountains. Temperatures were higher but still relatively low on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
Some 110,000 power and telephone users were affected, utility companies said. There were outages and lights flickered as winds slashed through electric lines.

Light rain was predicted for the northern zone and the Caribbean, as well as in the mountains.

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
This limb conveniently fell away from traffic.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 232

Mexico's Calderón may face mayhem at his inauguration
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President-elect Felipe Calderón has named the members of his economic cabinet, most of whom are well-known and respected figures both in México and around the world.

But before he can begin official work with his cabinet, Calderón will have to take the presidential oath in an inauguration ceremony that leftist opposition parties are planning to disrupt.

Ever since he won the Mexican presidential election by the slimmest of margins in July, Calderón has been moving steadily forward with his plans, in spite of demonstrations and threats from political opponents.

George Grayson, who keeps a close eye on Mexican politics from his academic position at the College of William and Mary, says Calderon's picks for his economic cabinet will meet with approval in Mexican business circles and in other parts of the world as well. "He has got a first-rate economic team. Agustin Carstens, who has been No. 2 at the International Monetary Fund is well-respected internationally, and his nomination is certainly being well-received by the financial analysts, not just in the United States, but around the world." said Grayson.

Carstens will be secretary of the treasury in the Calderón administration. Others on the team are Georgina Kessel for secretary of energy, Eduardo Sojo, economy, Luis Tellez, communications and transport, Javier Lozano Alarcon, labor, and Rodolfo Elizondo, tourism.

But before Calderón or his team can accomplish anything, he will have to go from being president-elect to president, something his closest rival in the election is trying to prevent. Monday, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who led 
a leftist coalition in the July election, declared himself
 president in a ceremony attended by thousands of his supporters in Mexico City.

Grayson, who earlier this year published a book about López Obrador, says the losing candidate's strategy is clear. "First, he is going to urge his followers to try to block Felipe Calderón's inauguration on December 1. Assuming he is unsuccessful in that, he will criticize every appointment and every program that the new president proposes, and he will move continually around the country in, what for him, is a moral crusade," he said.

Although he came close to winning the presidency, his recent actions have cost López Obrador public support. Polls show more than 60 percent of Mexicans believe he has hurt the country by declaring himself president. Many Mexicans also worry about how their country will be viewed when leftist supporters of López Obrador try to disrupt the inauguration.

Grayson said presidential guards and police can protect Calderon from demonstrators outside the inauguration site, at the national congress building, on Dec. 1, but not from people inside. "What they cannot do is protect him from senators and deputies from the various pro-López Obrador parties who are rightfully in the chamber and who will do everything possible to disrupt the ceremony.

"But it is likely to turn into absolute mayhem and that is going to be seen all over the world, not just through the eyes of the distinguished guests, but also on television. So I think the left is really shooting itself in the foot with a machinegun," he said.

Grayson said he believes Calderón will move quickly as president to address many of the major concerns of the left, to alleviate poverty and blunt the impact of López Obrador's protests.

Another moderate earthquake rattles the Pacific coast and is felt inland
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another earthquake hit the Pacific at 6:31 a.m. Tuesday, but there were no reports of damage.

The quake had a magnitude of between 4.8 and 5.0 and was centered some 24 kilometers (15 miles) south southeast of Puerto Quepos, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica in Heredia.

The quake has its origins in the tectonic plates on which the
country rides. The quake was 40 kilometers (25 miles) deep, said the observatory.

The shock was felt in most of the country, incuding the Central Valley.

A similar quake took place Saturday about 1:13 p.m.

This one was also about a 5.0 magnitude and was centered 15 kilometers (nine miles) southwest of San Pablo de León Cortés.

Cuba's vice president says he remains optimistic about return of Fidel Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage says he remains optimistic about the recovery of ailing President Fidel Castro, who temporarily stepped aside in July following intestinal surgery.

Lage made the comments on state television Tuesday, saying Castro continues to recover and that his health is improving. But he did not say whether Castro will be well enough to attend upcoming birthday festivities.
The Cuban leader turned 80 in August, but the festivities were postponed to allow him time to recover. The official Granma newspaper says the events will begin on Tuesday and last through early December.

Castro temporarily handed power to his younger brother, Defense Minister Raúl Castro, due to the operation. The Cuban leader has appeared only in news videos and photographs since then.

Details of his health remain a state secret.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 232

La Ruta bike challenge will add another day to format
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Just as the muscles are healing and the body is beginning to feel normal, the La Ruta de los Conquistadores’ organization has announced that the registration for the 15th anniversary event is now open.

The coming edition of the “hardest race of the world” has been set for Nov. 14, 15, 16 and 17, which means that it will have four stages instead of the three race days format as it has happened for the past 14 editions.

This year participants biked from Jacó on the Pacific and Matina on the Caribbean.

“Due to the success that La Ruta 2006 resulted and so are the fact that we have received lots of e-mails and requests, we decided to open an “early” registration. The 20 percent
of the total foreign field is already filled and hopefully it will be completely full for the next few weeks. We also invited the locals to make their own registration soon so they won’t loose the chance of being part of the celebration,” said Diego Viquez, La Ruta’s operations director.

A field of 350 non-local challengers is expected for the 2007 race. As for the local group, the organizers are counting on 300 competitors. Same five categories have been established for the challenge. Open Men, Female, Master A Men (30-39), Master B Men (40-49) and Veterans Men (50 +).

The on-line registration is available at the La Ruta’s official Web site, www.adventurerace.com. Complementary services registration (mechanics, transfers, massages, companions and support vehicles) have been opened as well.

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