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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 232                  E-mail us
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free trade protesters
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Protesters display a banner summarizing contention that Oct. 7 referendum was manipulated.
Joyful treaty ceremony draws die-hard protesters
By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While supporters of the free trade treaty applauded and shook each others hands inside Casa Presidencial Wednesday, about 100 die-hard demonstrators insisted outside that the Oct. 7 referendum was a fraud.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed paperwork relating to the treaty in a ceremony well protected from any protests. He said in a speech that those who oppose the treaty with the United States should accept the will of the majority. He also praised the pluralistic Costa Rican society.

The treaty passed by 3.1 percent, a difference of 48,844 out of 1.56 million valid votes.

In anticipation of the ceremony, about 100 persons showed up outside Casa Presidencial about 9 a.m. They were still there at 1 p.m. when the signing ceremony took place.

The effect of the ceremony itself is uncertain. Arias aides suggested the president was signing the treaty into law. That phrase was picked up by television commentators. However, the referendum law is clear that when the people vote the measure is a done deal. Typically the president signs laws that have been merely passed by the legislature.

Article 26 of the referendum law says that once notified of the outcome of the voting by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, the legislature — without further action — should communicate this information to the executive branch "for its immediate publication and observance." The election tribunal itself says that the treaty became law when it was approved in the referendum.

So the signing ceremony was more public relations than a legal requirement. Casa Presidencial used the phrase sancionar to explain what the president and his ministers were doing. That word means "to approve," which was something that the president didn't have to do Wednesday. The treaty also was signed by the minister of Comercio Exterior, Marco Vinicio Ruiz, and the minister to the Presidencia, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the president's brother.

The next step for the administration is to obtain approval of a dozen laws that will put the treaty into effect in Costa Rica.

Some protesters Wednesday said even if the trade treaty is finalized they will not give up the fight. “It is the rich groups who are benefitting in this. Of course we have to fight and continue to fight,” said protester Yolanda Mora Jiménez, a middle-aged woman wearing dark shades and a red kerchief around her mouth.

“There are two Costa Ricas” said Ana María Quirós Rojas of the Comité Patriótico de Heredia, “The first is the one inside Casa Presidencial: the diplomats and legislators who sell the motherland. The people and poverty are not important to them. The second country: is here, in the street. We know the value of the country, of the people. We believe that it is wrong to sell the constitution, to regulate the oceans, and the water.”
Oscar Arias signs free trade agreement
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Óscar Arias signs the free trade document while Francisco Antonio Pacheco, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, applauds heartily.

Thousands of voters names were erased from the voting registry Oct. 7, said Maria R. Vargas, a
spokeswoman of Comité Patriótico. She said opponents have evidence that registered voters from small areas including Tilarán, elsewhere in Guanacaste, Alajuelita, San José, Ciruelas, Alajuela and numerous other locations were unable to vote because their names had mysteriously vanished from the registry. She said no one has access to this information except the electoral tribunal. The party plans to air a commercial asking people who were turned away at the polls to come forward, she said. This claim has not been verified thus far.

The anti-free trade demonstration included university students, leaders of the anti-movement, and some union members and community workers.

Compared to protests before the October referendum, this one was minuscule and seemed to lack energy, as many students sat down or even napped on the sidewalk.

Gabriela Quiros Castro, a 20-year-old student from the Universidad de Costa Rica admitted that the movement is smaller now.  “It was stronger before and now has lessened because 'supposedly 'si' won," she said, using her fingers to encapsulate the word supposedly.

“This is a national fraud,” she said. Ms. Quiros and her friend, also studying at the university, said students were more prevalent in the protests because they had more knowledge of what was really happening and because of the movements going on within the universities.

Teams of international and local observers said at the time of the referendum that the vote appeared to be fair.
Saturday protesters are expected to gather in Limón, and Monday a march is planned which will begin at the headquarters of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad in Sabana Norte and end in San José centro at the legislature. The electrical institute, which is now the telecommunications monopoly, will face competition under the trade treaty.

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Seeking a bold Yule gift?
Try Lebanese tiger's milk!

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica became an international country because world conditions have caused immigrants from many nations to settle here.

The variety can be found in the food. And one of the most
wines of lebanon
Choice is mild or strong
interesting is Lebanon. The gastronomy of Lebanon probably is one of the richest in the world with a lot of Turkish and Arabic influences. Examples can be found on Paseo Colón.

Lebanon was for many years a financial center called by the nickname of the Switzerland of Near East. Wars devastated the country and continue to do so even in the 21st century. But being the crossroads for so many
years also had an influence on the cuisine.

Perhaps unknown to most in the West, Lebanon produces a spirit that is 50 percent alcohol. Fittingly, this is called informally "tiger's milk" or  halib sbee in Arabic. The product name of this challenging drink is Arak Touma. By contrast, most U.S. wines are 14 percent.

For those seeking a Christmas present with a jolt, Arak Touma is available at Ajiram, a Lebanese gift store on Paseo Colón.

Arak Touma is made from grapes cultivated at 1,500 meters or a bit less than 5,000 feet, where the fruit is more concentrated and rich in vitamins with the added taste of anise seeds. The drink is transparent like water and very potent.

For the less bold there is  TSARA, a 13-percent wine that is from the Bekka Valley.  TSARA has been recognized with the silver medal by the world wines selections or Seleccion  Mondiales des Vin in Canada this year.

The Bekka Valley is the source of many fine and exquisite wines where the Mediterranean climate prevails with hot, dry summers and rainy winters. Even the Romans recognized the value of wine cultivation here.

TSARA can be red, which will go well with cheese, meats, bread or pastas and some international recipies. The white made from sweeter grapes is perfect with fish and seafoods.

The Arak Touma, the tiger's milk, comes in a presentation bottle and in several sizes.  Prices range from 6,200 colons (nearly $12) to 9,800 colons (around $19).
TSARA, red or white, comes in a 750 milliliter bottle for 8,500 colons (about $16.30).

Ajiram also is the place for other imports from Lebanon, such as spices and oils. The store is across the street from the Torre Mercedes on Paseo Colón and adjacent to Restaurant Lebnan, where the cuisine also is Middle Eastern.

Caja directors again gain
a victory in criminal case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seven former directors of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social were found not guilty Wednesday of misuse of public funds, according to the Poder Judicial. This is the second time they have been acquitted.

The directors used public money to purchase ads in Spanish-language daily newspapers in support of the Caja's executive director, Eliseo Vargas.

At the time, Vargas was the subject of a number of news stories recounting how he was a tenant in a luxury home in Santa Ana that had been purchased by Corporación Fischel, the drug company and a major supplier for the Caja.

The allegations continued to grow into what is now known as the Finland scandal in which millions designated for medical supplies from that country ended up being diverted to bank accounts of politicians. The country of Finland provided the $35 million loan on the condition that medical machinery was purchased from that country.

Subsequently, many at the Caja-operated hospitals said the equipment was not what was needed.

Former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez was swept up in the investigation and had to resign as general secretary of the Organization of American States.

Vargas and Rodríguez and others still are under investigation.

The Caja directors had been declared not guilty in an earlier trial, but the Sala III appeals court sent the case back for a new trial.

Intercountry adoption rules
go into effect in U.S. April 1

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. President George Bush has signed off on the ratification documents for the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. This is the final procedural step for the United States to become a full member of the Hague Convention.

Maura Harty, assistant secretary of State for consular affairs, will formally deposit this instrument in The Hague Dec. 12, the State Department said. The department said it expects the Hague Convention to go into effect April 1. 
The convention establishes international norms and procedures for intercountry adoption cases with other Hague Convention members. The agreement is designed to protect the interests of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents. It also provides that member nations recognize adoptions that take place within other Hague Convention countries. 
The deposit of the instrument completes a process begun in 1994, when the United States signed the convention after participating actively in its negotiation and adoption. In 2000, the Senate consented to ratification and Congress passed implementing legislation, the Intercountry Adoption Act.

The agreement sets up a procedure for designating accrediting agencies for companies providing adoption services and the Department of State will maintain a centralized registry to track adoption cases and to receive complaints and comments about accredited adoption service providers.        

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 232

Artists getting the jump on Christmas with display of top-of-the-line works
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Artists are imbuing Parque Morazán with Christmas spirit already, as they sell various brightly colored handicrafts to a background of music and poetry.

A row of white tents was in the downtown park Wednesday to house stalls showing jewelry, photography, painting and other handmade goods as part of Acordes Navideños.

The event, which is now in its third year, will round off its cultural program today with a fireworks display and an orchestra concert.

Organized by the Asociación Costarricense para Organizaciones de Desarrollo, the two-day festival is intended to show off the achievements of local artists during the year.

Some artists are demonstrating their crafts on site, including Gabriella Bonilla, who puts the finishing touches to her unusual papier-maché lamps as she sits at her stall.

"All of my lamps are made from recycled materials like bottles and paper," she said, adding designs to her pieces with acrylic paints. "It takes about four days to make one because you have to leave it out to dry in the sun to make it harder."

Many of the 10 artists on display Wednesday usually sell their works in shops, including chain stores such as Zara.

The park's Templo de la Musica will host a variety of cultural events today, including a mascarada
vendor surrounded by lamps
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Gabriella Bonilla puts the finishing touches on one of her unusual papier-maché lamps.

presentation at 3 p.m. and a recital by the Grupo Declamación de Poesía at 5 p.m.

Music starts at 6 p.m. with a Christmas choir, before the finale of film music played by the Orquesta Filarmonica de Costa Rica topped off by a firework display.

Judge frees three police officers who are robbery suspects
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another set of armed robbery suspects has received generous treatment from the court system.

They are three Fuerza Pública officers who were detained early Tuesday in downtown San José after a pedestrian said he had been held up by a group of men.

The Policía Municipal made the arrest when the three off-duty police officers were driving through the city in a vehicle without plates.

Shortly after the arrests, the prosecutor in charge of the case asked a judge to order the men to jail for three months while an investigation takes place.

However, the Poder Judicial said Wednesday that the judge in the Juzgado Penal de San José let the men go free with certain restrictions.

These restrictions or medidas cautelares are that the men maintain a fixed place of residence, that they sign in with the prosecutor every eight days and that they not approach witnesses or the victim in the case.

The generous treatment extends to the Ministerio de
Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública which supervises the Fuerza Pública. An official said Wednesday that the men were being suspended but with salary. Two worked in San José and the third worked in Curridabat.

The officers were identified by their last names by the Poder Judicial:  Cordero Astúa, Vindas Sánchez and Carvajal Cordero.

A fourth man, identified by the last names of Mendoza Morales, who was with the officers when they were arrested, also faces the same restrictions. He is a person with a police record.

This is the second case this week where robbery suspects were not jailed for pretrial detention.

In a more spectacular case Sunday, gunmen help up three employees in an Importadora Monge delivery truck, tied them up and dumped them in the rear of the truck while the robbers drove the vehicle in the direction of Aserrí south of San José. Police stopped the truck and arrested the robbery suspects in Desamparados.

Some of the suspects were able to leave custody within hours and were picked up the next day, Monday, as suspects in the hijacking of a car that day.

Loss of blue flag designation seen having positive effects in Tamarindo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of Tamarindo's community association, Pro Mejoras Playa Tamarindo, spoke positively Wednesday after the town lost its blue flag certification early this week.

Officials removed the environmental seal of approval from the Guanacaste surf town due to the huge levels of fecal contamination found in its waters, and the community's insufficient efforts to reverse the situation.

Speaking Wednesday Frederico Amador, executive director of Pro Mejoras, said he was confident that Tamarindo would regain the blue flag certification by the end of next year, saying that the town intends to have a sewage treatment plant installed by next November.

"We knew that we would lose the flag," he said. We think that it will be good for creating awareness, and making people understand that there is a problem that must be solved."

Tests run by Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados in August, and published in October, showed that the level of coliform bacteria in the ocean surrounding Tamarindo was up to 7,000 times higher than the level considered safe for humans to swim in. Most homes and businesses rely on septic tanks
The blue flag, awarded by Acueductos y Alcantarillados and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, takes into account water quality as well as environmental management and safety, among other factors.

The water company is involved because it has a sophisticated laboratory for checking samples.

Acueductos y Alcantarillados officials decided that the town's residents had not made enough changes since the test results were announced to be allowed to maintain the certification.

"The blue flag is only given to those who are doing things right, and we have not been doing things right for years," said Amador.

"Now, we are trying to control contamination, bring back the lifeguards and set up a beach cleaning program. We want to integrate the whole community into this, rather than just relying on the association."

Some tourists have already canceled holidays for this high season as a result of the negative publicity surrounding the recent tests.

"Most tourists will realize that this is a minor setback," Amador said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 232

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Cuban elections Jan. 20 may formally install Raúl Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba has set Jan. 20 as the date for national elections that will determine whether ailing leader Fidel Castro will remain the island's president. The vote may confirm the transfer of power to Fidel's brother, Raúl Castro.

State-run television announced the decision by Cuba's interim leader Raul Castro to hold elections Jan. 20. The voting is held every five years to select the 609 members of the national assembly as well as delegates to provincial bodies. Individuals must first be elected to the national assembly to be eligible to serve on Cuba's council of state, which is led by the president.

The question is whether ailing leader Fidel Castro will seek re-election to the national assembly after temporarily handing power to his brother, Raúl, 16 months ago. The 81-year-old Fidel has not been seen in public since undergoing stomach surgery in July of last year.

Uva De Aragon, associate director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University, says the vote may confirm what many observers have been expecting. Ms. de Aragon says the January vote may serve to formalize the unofficial changes that have been happening in Cuba's
leadership, and confirm the transfer of power from Fidel to Raúl Castro.

Cuban officials have not commented on a future presidential transition, which would mark the end of Fidel Castro's more than four decades in power.

Since taking over, Raúl Castro has been criticized for announcing few changes to address an economic decline and political concerns on the island. Ms. de Aragon says a formal transfer of power could embolden Raúl to begin tackling the problems.

She said that if elected president, Raul Castro would begin to make the changes that Cuban people have been expecting.

Ms. de Aragon says many Cubans are hoping for economic reforms to end an economic slump, and few expect to see a political opening in the Communist system in the short term.

Local elections were held last month. The U.S. State Department has expressed concern that candidates in past elections were chosen through unions and other groups controlled by the Communist leadership.

Government in Ecuador complains over President Correa's treatment in Miami
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuador has lodged a formal protest to the United States regarding the treatment last week of President Rafael Correa by U.S. immigration officials.

Ecuador's foreign ministry said Tuesday it had lodged the "strongest protest" to the U.S. government for the "lack of basic manners" shown to Correa at the international airport in Miami, Florida.  It said the U.S. government had been
told in advance of the president's layover.

Correa refused to be searched by U.S. immigration officials last Thursday as he traveled through Miami on his way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the summit of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador to Quito Linda Jewell expressed regret over the incident, but said U.S. officials had not received advanced notice of Correa's layover.

Nicaraguan lawmakers again reject Ortega's citizen councils over fears of spying
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Lawmakers in Nicaragua have rejected President Daniel Ortega's proposal to create citizen councils, arguing they would be used by the government to spy on the population.

Nicaragua's congress had previously passed a measure to legally dismantle the groups, but Ortega vetoed it. Lawmakers gathered 52 votes Tuesday to override the veto.
Critics of the councils say there would be a return to citizen groups Ortega used during his presidency two decades ago to monitor citizens. Opposition lawmaker Eduardo Montealegre said the councils would be "a way to blackmail and instill terror."

However, lawmaker Gustavo Porras of the president's Sandinista party defended the groups, saying they are a model of "direct democracy."

Chile's supreme court confirms that Pinochet family members are off the hook
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Chilean supreme court has upheld a lower court decision dismissing embezzlement charges against relatives and aides of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet but ordered an audit of his accounts.

A judge, Alberto Chaigneau, says the supreme court voted unanimously Wednesday to uphold the decision.

Last month, an appeals court said Pinochet's widow, four of his five adult children and about 10 of his aides could not be accused of embezzling millions of dollars of state money. The court said there was no evidence they knew of a criminal effort to obtain public funds. The ruling did not
 cover one of the late dictator's sons because he did not join his family in filing an appeal.

Also Wednesday, the Chilean supreme court ordered a prosecuting judge, Carlos Cerda, to conduct the inventory of Pinochet's assets.

Pinochet's widow, Lucia Hiriart, along with their five children and 17 former associates, were arrested in October on the charges. They were later released. The arrests were related to an investigation into multi-million-dollar accounts the late military ruler held in banks in the United States and elsewhere. Pinochet, who held power from 1973 to 1990, died last December without ever facing trial on charges of embezzlement and human rights violations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 232

Final rally event is this weekend in Guanacaste, and prize is the championship
By Anne Calrk
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The final meeting of the Campeonato Naciónal de Rally Mapache will take place this weekend at La Ponderosa in Guanacaste.  Saturday, racers will complete 10 legs.  Sunday, the final day, will bring eight more legs to determine the winner. 

The scoring is complex, based both on finishing times and points rankings.  Saturday and Sunday's winners are not
necessarily the winners of the entire rally but points will be awarded and then tallied. The route Saturday and Sunday will be gravel.

Thursday, the cars will be inspected by mechanics at Super Service la Sabana.  There will be an exhibition open to the public. 

The current leader is Gonzalo “Chalo” Quiros with Sirhan Wabe only three points behind.  Gerardo and Rebeca Moreno, a brother-sister team, are also strong contenders.

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