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(506) 223-1327          Published Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 233        E-mail us    
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Expat poet in Escazú pens book about Santa Claus
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expat Ficklin Bryant has released a children's Christmas book.  Bryant has been published in other newspapers and magazines, but this is his first major book release and also his first project directed toward children.

On the morning of Dec. 1, 1999, Bryant said he awoke with what he called a series of lines and ideas for a story flowing through his mind and instantly began writing them down.  Before the day was done, he had written the entire book. “It just flowed out of me,” he said.

To complete the book illustrations were needed to accompany Bryant's poetic lines.  This is where Costa Rican Gino Leon Esquivel became involved. 

The 19-year-old student of the Universidad de Costa Rica just happened to be a neighbor of one of Bryant's friends. Esquivel's drawings put the finishing touch. The book came out in October. 

Bryant said he feels that the illustrations are an excellent complement to the book and hopes that the release leads to further work for the young artist.

The book is like a modern day version of "The Night Before Christmas" and is about a boy, Tommy, who becomes special friends with Santa, Bryant said.  It has already been receiving praise from some of the local American expats here in

Book is heavily illustrated

Costa Rica. Unsurprisingly, the title is "Santa Was His Friend." The author is listed whimsically as Ole St. Fick.

Bryant says that he has always been a Christmas enthusiast.  In his hometown of Warsaw, Virginia, where Bryant spent 25 years running an upholstery and fabric shop, people used to arrive from all over each year to see his extravagant Christmas displays, he said.  He also revealed that Christmas Day has more than one special meaning in his life, as it is also the birthday of his youngest daughter, Holly.

The Escazú author is already planning to put together a poetry book in 2007.  In the meantime, he will be busy promoting and distributing the children's book. 

There is a book signing at the Humboldt School Christmas Bazaar in Pavas a week from today at 4 p.m. and another in the lobby of the the downtown Aurola Holiday Inn Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.   Bryant reports his writing and activities on his Web site.

Arias signs loan documents for giant sewer project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed the agreement Wednesday that seals a $135 million loan with the Government of Japan. This is an additional step in repairing and extending sewer lines in the Central Valley and constructing a treatment plant.

The agreement is with the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation, and the loan has a 25-year term and a 1.2 percent interest rate. Japanese Ambassador Yoshihiko Sumi signed for his government.

Although the gigantic sewer project will not be certain until bids are let, acceptance of the loan at least shows the intent of the country to do the job

The agreement was stalled for months in the Asamblea Legislativa, and for a time it looked like
the country would fail to make the approval deadline stipulated by the Japanese. The deadline was extended once.

Ricardo Sancho of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados had lobbied strongly for the loan in several appearances before an assembly committee.

Costa Rica styles itself as being environmentally friendly, and it is a contradiction to simply dump the sewage from the Central Valley into the streams and rivers that flow eventually into the Río Grande de Tarcoles and then into the Gulf of Nicoya north of Jacó. In addition, many sewer pipes are simply rusted out, and raw sewage flows over urban streets and sidewalks, especially when heavy rains come.
There is no deadline yet on starting the job, but it is likely that part of the money from Japan will go to the engineering work.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 233

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This is one of the missing pieces photographed in a glass display case.

Pre-Columbian sculptures
are booty from burglary

By Arnoldo Cob
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A burglar took two pre-Columbian sculptures from the home of a U.S. developer in the Nicoya Peninsula. Investigators said the value of the two pieces is $90,000.

The Judicial Investigating Organization made the report of the July 12 crime public Wednesday and said they were seeking help from citizens to recover the items.

The theft was at the home of Joel Shedleo at the Hacienda del Mar subdivision in San Juanillo de Santa Cruz. Shedleo is developing the subdivision with Donald Haskins, agents said.

The thief also took a laptop computer and an 1801 painting worth $600 investigators said.

The first pre-Columbian piece (pictured above) appears to be the head of an Indian crowned by an eagle. The piece is eight inches wide by 12 inches high and has a transparent glass  base. Investigators said this was valued at $50,000.

The second piece was not fully described in the investigative report. However, it measures eight inches, said the document. This is valued at $40,000, the report said.

A lawyer representing Shedleo told investigators that the thief appears to have broken in through a back window while the homeowner was working during the day.

Any information can be reported to 681-4062, said agents

More malaria cases
reported in Matina area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cases of malaria continue to show an increase in the vicinity of Matina.

María Luisa Ávila Agüero, the minister of health, visited the affected area earlier this week to check on the ministry's strategy. Workers have been spraying in and around most of the population centers and eliminating places where mosquito larvae can grow.

The ministry had a team of 10 going door-to-door in the area.

A malaria clinic has been opened in Batán.

Officials also have advised those older than 2 to use repellent.

Earlier this week the ministry reported that 82 victims of two types of malaria were under treatment. The Plasmodium  falciparum is the most dangerous kind of malaria infection, and this variety is back after an absence of three years. The other form of malaria is Plamodium vivax. The ministry said that 69 of the reported cases have been diagnosed to be  Plasmodium falciparum.

The female Anopheles mosquito carries the protozoa that causes malaria. Nearly all of the country's malaria cases each year come from the Matina-Limón area.

There is a pharmaceutical treatment for malaria, but ministry workers complain that after taking medicine for three days, malaria sufferers ignore treatment. The full term is seven days. Those who do not take medicine for the full period run the risk of creating drug-resistant varieties of the protozoa.

Malaria symptoms are fever, sweating, chills and a headache. Throughout the world there are 500 million cases a year with 1.5 to 2.7 million deaths, nearly all from Plasmodium falciparum.

Feb. 5 ballots have future
after being recycled

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans with a good sense of humor might be interested to know that the names and photos of all the politicians who sought office Feb. 5 may end up as toilet paper.

That's the deal the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones had made with the company Kimberly Clarke. The tribunal is delivering some 80 tons of used ballots and paperwork. In return the company will return toilet paper, paper towels and other paper products recycled from the ballots as well as soaps and other items.

The company will take about 15 days to do this work. So the tribunal said it has six employees assigned to keep track of the ballots to make sure they do not fall into the wrong hands.

The ballots used to be burned.

Tribunal workers have been separating the papers into colored and white lots.

Dec. 3 is the election for municipal mayors and officials. So the tribunal wants to clear out the space where the ballots have been guarded.

Phone outage in Garza and Nosara

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is an interruption in phone services planned today at between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the communities of Garza and Nosara on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. 

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said its employees would be working on and repairing the fiber-optics network in the two areas. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 233

Our readers' opinions
Costa Rica vs. The U.S.A.: The pluses and minuses

Fighting corruption culture
begins first at home

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I could not ignore Mr. Holtz’s rather twisted understanding of corruption and what exactly helps it thrive.  His letter in today’s A.M. Costa Rica states that,  Costa Rica is a “’culture of corruption’ and we need to live with that reality on every level (Yes, to the very top where it starts and stops.) because nothing much else is being done about it except teeth sucking and head shaking.” 

Do he and other foreign residents actually believe that it’s okay for them to be corrupt while expecting the police and politicians to be honest? Is it really all the fault of the people at “the top?”   Every single time someone pays off a policeman or offers bribes under the table to obtain permits they are promoting and encouraging even more corruption. It is, in fact, the people with money who cause corruption!  They are the ones who pay to get things done when and how they want regardless of the laws in Costa Rica. 

Just in case people do not really know,  a traffic ticket in Costa Rica is paid at a bank.  It is NOT paid to a policeman.  Mr. Holtz knows this since he states, “instead of paying $20 it will cost $40 to get out of a ticket.”  The purpose of a traffic ticket is to fine one for unsafe driving. which is a very big problem here. Paying off police to “get out of a ticket” just magnifies both the traffic and the corruption problems. 

So, please, all you happy foreigners living here in Costa Rica, pay attention to your own actions of corruption before you blame the government. You CAN do something about your own behavior even if it’s difficult to change the government.  I am not new to this country or unaware of how things work. However, I have never paid off a policeman or a bribe.  I have dealt with the red tape, waited weeks and months for the Tico process to deal with things, and paid tickets at the bank.  It is not necessary, when living here, to add to the corruption and even worse to complain about it when one is helping to make it thrive.

M. Reiber

EDITOR'S NOTE: U.S. law prohibits U.S. citizens from paying bribes to a foreign official.

U.S. health system called
too expensive for many

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I’ve read both Greg Bianchi’s letter and Michael Lee’s letter and must side with Greg Bianchi.  Mike Lee appears to me to be somewhat out of touch with mainstream America.  The excessive cost of living here is one of the reasons my wife and I are in the process of immigrating to Costa Rica.

Medical treatment here is good and, in some case, excellent and is also extremely expensive.  Unless you’re 65 or older, you do not qualify for any type of governmental medical programs, but then you also pay for that coverage.  

If the government determines that you are permanently, totally disabled, you can qualify for government provided medical care, but that usually takes two to three years.  It’s estimated that over 40 percent of workers don’t have insurance because they can’t afford it.  A married worker with a wife and two kids can obtain medical insurance through the employer but will pay over US$600 per month for the coverage and then still have to pay a deductible every time someone sees a doctor or gets a prescription filled. 

Dental and vision coverage is an extra expense.  Plus, there is the status of workers that the employer does not have to offer medical insurance to. You don’t have a choice in the doctor you see.  You see the doctor approved by the medical coverage you have.  If you’re unemployed you might be able to get some care through a county clinic, but even that is restricted to those with very little if any assets. 

You can go to an emergency room, but many hospital emergency rooms will not treat a walk-in patient or a patient without insurance.  Be brought in by ambulance from a car wreck, etc. you might be seen, but that is not guaranteed. Except for a very few county run hospitals all others are for profit and they operate just for that — profit. 

I’m sure Mike Lee’s grandmother only pays US$99 or thereabouts for medical coverage, but then she is over 65.  She can’t, however, see the physician of her choice.  She can only go to those that accept Medicare.  She can get prescription medications up to a certain amount, but then must pay for others herself until she has spent a couple thousand dollars of her own money.  Once she does that, the government coverage she’s paying for kicks back in.

Education can be very affordable or affordable only to the wealthy.  If you go to a college or university run by the state and are a resident of the state, you pay affordable fees and tuition.  Out of state residents have to pay exorbitant tuitions and fees.  For private universities, medical schools, law schools, etc. it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars a year.  Plus, there is no guarantee you will be accepted. Only so many new students are accepted by colleges and universities each year and those applying have to obtain certain scores on what are called placements tests.

Student loans, grants and scholarships are available, but you must qualify for them. Not everyone does.  The State of Florida where I live does guarantee a student can go to college providing they can afford the tuition and fees.  Not all high school graduates’ families can.

Inheritance varies from state to state.  Die without a will and the survivors have a big problem until they go to court and a judge determines who gets what.  Even dying with a will does not necessarily mean the survivor is going to get everything.  It’s not as simple as Mr. Lee makes out in his letter.  Debtors have first choice, than the government with the rest going to the survivor.  Hopefully, the deceased had some type of life insurance, but not everyone does or can afford it.

He indicates his parents live comfortably in a adult living facility.  I wonder what that cost them.  Most of those facilities are very, nice.  I’ve been in several to visit elderly friends.  Most of them, however, require the resident to sign over the bulk of their assets to that facility in order to be accepted.   For those who are forced because of sickness, injury, etc. into a facility, government assistance can be obtained, but all family assets have to be reduced to less than US$3,000.

Nether mentioned everyday encountered costs:  homeowner’s insurance, taxes, water, electricity, etc..  Here in Florida many people are being forced to sell their homes because they either can’t get home owner’s insurance or can’t afford it.  If you owe money on your home you have to insure it. 

Taxes are an additional factor forcing people out.  For this year my home owner’s insurance and property taxes are more US$6,000.  Last month my electric bill for October was almost US$250 and that is with only having to run the air-conditioner less than 10 days of the month.  My bill was low compared to some of my friends and neighbors. Many retirees are having to go back to work in order to meet monthly expenses.

The U.S. is a fine country, but the cost of living here and other factors are driving a lot of us out.  A final example.  Some close friends of ours moved to Costa Rica last year.  The only income they have is his social security pension which is just a little over US$900 per month.  They live extremely well and have money left over each month.  That US$900 here would not even cover rent, much less a house payment, and utilities.  Forget about eating, having a phone, going any place, etc.

Frank Walker
St. Petersburg, Florida
U.S. health system rated
less compassionate than here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to Mr. Lee's letter stating that the American health care system “ is hard to beat,” there are more than 46.6 million Americans well qualified to disprove your allegation. Health care in the U.S.A. is neither accessible nor affordable to everyone.

My husband and I know well the disgraceful shortcomings of medical care there. If you fall through the cracks, you are guaranteed nothing, however hard you’ve worked all your life. We have been denied admittance to emergency rooms on more than one occasion. We've been denied ambulance transport because a public hospital was two miles farther down the road than the private hospital. We’ve been denied physical therapy.

Until you have suffered the gutwrenching anxiety of knowing that you cannot receive medical care now or in the future, until you have suffered physical pain unabated because no doctor or hospital will treat you, you are not qualified to comment upon the American health care system knowledgeably.

We have received far better, prompt and compassionate care in Costa Rica than we could ever hope to receive in the States.

Pamela Ellsworth

The Costa Rica of long ago
just does not exist today

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Trying to compare Costa Rica today with the U.S. is no different than comparing apples and Oranges.

I have been going to Costa Rica since 1988. I moved to Costa Rica in 1994 so our daughter would be born there and came back in 1996. I decide to retire to Costa Rica In 1999 and bought property in Playa Potrero, one hectare. The first 50 meters in the maritime zone and the next 150 meters on the edge. It was fully titled as the main road was in front of the property.

In 1988 I went down and was married to my wonderful Tica. I stayed in Lagunilla de Heredia at an in-laws house. My rental car and maybe four other cars were all that were on the small street. There were six side streets which had a grass and treed path to the homes.

In early 2006 while I was still living in Costa Rica, the same area changed. The side streets are now all cement with grass and trees gone. There are now at least 50 cars on the one section of Urbanizacion OVI #2. The traffic in San Jose most definitely represents the increase in cars and bad-mannered, bad drivers. Only a few more years and it will be a dead standstill with numerous accidents and corrupt reports of phony accidents which already occur.

In 2000 I placed my then-6-year-old daughter in a private school so she would have a U.S. certified education. The yearly cost was then $3.500 but jumped in 2003 to over $7,000. As mentioned in another letter in A.M. Costa Rica, you can go to a state college like the University of Washington for that amount if you live here. Public schools in Costa Rica are a disgrace with an extremely high dropout rate.

In 2003 my wife became pregnant again. This time I tried the Caja. Two trips to the clinic were enough. The doctor was squeezing my wife’s stomach trying to FEEL the fetus instead of using an ultrasound. We found a private doctor in Heredia who could do a delivery in his office. He had all the equipment with a high-end ultrasound unit which gave us video. He set up her operation at Clinica Catolica and my wife had a C-section and tubes tied at the same time on my $5,000 credit card. My wife and I also had extensive dental work prior to coming back to the States last summer at a third of the cost in the States.

Now why did I come back!! I pay a little over $2,000 a year in property tax for the new house I bought in Washington State. In Costa Rica, I paid $150 a year, BUT the repair work every year on my junker Dodge Ram 2001 model 2500 after driving in Costa Rica plus marchamo and extra insurance was much more.

Playa Potrero was a beautiful friendly town, and I refused to live behind bars. Then came the developers putting up $250,000-plus condos and homes over $5 million.

The town south of me, Surfside Estates, started around 27 years ago. Lots were selling at $4,000 in 2000 and in 2005 were up to $45,000. Nice profit for the tax dodgers. They were hiring immigrants — now wait, the U.S.A. is suppose to have an immigration problem — well so does Costa Rica.

Builders hired then fired their help before the 90-day period so they would not have to pay benefits. The beach started looking like a camp ground. Last year one night my wife woke me up screaming just in time for me to see this guy with one foot in my house and the other out. I bought two dogs and slept with a loaded gun holstered to my bed. I also spent a lot on an outside security system with motion detectors and camera.

I live here in a very quiet area, crimeless.

My children go to public school and because I have a small pension and disability, I pay $15 for each child for full health coverage each month. In Costa Rica the Caja wanted me to pay $83.  I pay Medicare here $92 to go to any doctor or hospital of my choice and, yes, if I walk into the emergency room they have to treat me or anyone else. That is why health care is so high as so many immigrants take advantage of the emergency room.

I am sorry I had to leave my wife’s most wonderful family but, I have brought back memories of the great fun times we had during Semana Santa with 30 people living in my old Playa Potrero home for the week.

I wish all that have stayed on the best and always watch your back. Soon you will not be able to drive and most likely will be paying tax in Costa Rica. And I will use the savings to return every other year for a month for pinto and heuvos and the friendship of my family there.

Richard Vienneau
Kennewick, Washington

Naturalized C.R. and proud of it. Wish things could have worked out better but way to much corruption, and I do not see that changing in my lifetime.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 233

Morales running into political trouble over his land plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two of Bolivia's opposition parties are planning to protest a government plan to redistribute land to poor peasants.

The Bolivian newspaper El Deber said Wednesday that 14 senators from the National Unity and Podemos parties oppose the land redistribution plan backed by President Evo Morales. It said the lawmakers will not attend the senate until the ruling party backs down.

Bolivia has 27 senators, and the opposition boycott effectively means the legislative body will not have a quorum to conduct business. The lower house of congress, where Morales' party has a majority, already passed legislation that would make it easier for the state to take over land that is not being used or was acquired illegally.
Also Wednesday, governors of the six richest departments in Bolivia said they have broken relations with Morales.

The governors represent areas where most of Bolivia's economic strength is concentrated, including the agriculturally rich eastern lowlands and the urban centers of La Paz and Cochabamba.

Since taking office this year, Morales has begun a five-year plan to redistribute farmland to Indian communities. He has also moved to take control of the oil and gas industry, citing what he has called centuries of foreign exploitation.

The latest action to redistribute land generated opposition because the bill ws railroaded through the lower house with only a majority vote when the Bolivian constitutional calls for a two-thirds vote of approval.

U.S. and Colombia sign free trade pact, but fight expected in U.S. Congress
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States has signed a free-trade agreement with Colombia, the 10th such agreement passed under the president's trade promotion authority, which is set to expire in July 2007.

Both countries now will submit the agreement to their legislatures for approval.

The comprehensive agreement promises to strengthen economic ties between the United States and Colombia by eliminating tariffs and other barriers to goods and services and expanding trade between the two countries, according to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

John Veroneau, deputy U.S. trade representative signed the agreement Wednesday on behalf of the United States with Jorge Humberto Botero, Colombian minister of trade, industry and tourism in Washington.

The agreement is expected also to support Colombia's reform-minded government, which has promoted policies to combat narcotics trafficking, reinforce democratic institutions and generate economic development, Schwab said when the agreement was reached by both countries' trade negotiators earlier in 2006.

The agreement faces some obstacles, however. Some members of the U.S. Congress have indicated they would not vote in favor of the pact unless it is rewritten to contain more protections for labor rights and the environment, and because of sensitivities that imports of Colombian sugar might threaten U.S. sugar producers.
Private-sector sources are reported to have said that getting Congress to approve the Colombia agreement would be more difficult than securing approval of a U.S.-Peru trade agreement because Colombia has a history of blocking union organizers.

Both the Colombian and Peruvian trade agreements must be acted on by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees before they can be considered by the full Congress.  In the wake of the midterm U.S. elections and the change in political control of Congress in January 2007, incoming Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a Democrat, has said that he plans to raise worker rights issues when the accords come before his committee.

Hernando José Gomez, Colombia's chief trade negotiator, has said he expects the Colombian congressional approval process to be finished by January 2007, after which Colombia would submit the agreement to its constitutional court for review, according to news reports.

According to a USTR fact sheet, under the agreement, more than 80 percent of U.S. exports to Colombia — including high-quality beef, cotton, wheat, soybeans and soy meal, key fruits and vegetables and some processed foods — immediately would become duty-free, and duties for the remainder of exports would be phased out over 10 years.

Under trade promotion authority Congress either can approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement within time limits but may not amend the agreement. In 2005, the United States was Colombia's largest trading partner with two-way goods trade between the two countries amounting to $14.3 billion.

U.S. says it will require passports of Western Hemisphere air travelers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
The U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security announced Wednesday that on and after Jan. 23 citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda must present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere.
This change in travel document requirements is the result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, which Congress subsequently passed into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

Costa Rica already requries visitors from the United States and Canada to have passports. But elsewhere in the Caribbean, the new requirement is being criticised as a blow to tourism.

The U.S. plan will be put into effect in two phases.
The first phase requires all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the United States from within the Western Hemisphere.

A separate proposed rule addressing land and sea travel will be published at a later date proposing specific requirements for travelers entering the United States through land and sea border crossings.
As early as Jan. 1, 2008, U.S. citizens traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea could be required to present a valid U.S. passport.

The State Department said that in Fiscal Year 2006, the department issued a record 12.1 million passports to American citizens, and anticipates issuing 16 million passports in Fiscal Year 2007.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 233

Inspection of sports facilities planned in anticipation of 2008 national games
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Osvaldo Pandolfo Rimolo, the vice minister of Deportes, will begin an inspection of sport facilities around Costa Rica this weekend.  The purpose is to appraise conditions and needed investments for the upcoming Juegos Deportivos Nacionales del Caribe 2008, the 2008 national sporting games of the Carribean.

The appraisal tour has been organized by Jorge Méndez Zamora and Yalile Esna Willians, both legislators, in cooperation with the respective sports commities of the provinces involved in the event.  A team of professionals from the Insitituto Costarricenses del Deporte y Recreación
 is responsible for drafting an infrastructure report.  This document is meant to detail the required improvements and investments to facilities needed before the games can commence, report said.

The tour will begin Saturday with a visit to the Talamanca, Limón and Matina regions.  Sunday the officials will inspect the facilities in the Siquirres, Guácimo, and Pococí regions with a meeting at the Expo Pococí facility in Guápiles to follow.

Officials said they hoped the celebration of the 2008 games could be accompanied by a new effort to extend the national games towards all corners of the provinces.

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