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(506) 223-1327          Published Friday, Nov. 24, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 234        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas and Noel Dekking
These are the signs of Chrismas: The Universidad de Costa Rica choir in concert at Parque Morazán and the fireworks after. Plus
there was a car heading down the highway with a tree lashed to the top. The pre-holiday period is in full swing. 

Annual nativity ox cart parade is weekend highlight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big show this weekend is the X Entrada de Santos y Desfile de Boyeros por San José . This is the 10th annual parade of boyeros and their oxen hauling life-size statues of saints in their carts.

The parade this year is supposed to start at 9 a.m. from Parque la Sabana. The route is east on Paseo Colón to Avenida 2 to the Paseo de los Estudiantes to  Plaza González Víquez.

The ox carts, which were originally designed  to haul the nation's golden harvest of coffee from fields to the Puntarenas docks are an intangible human heritage, according to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Caring for the beasts is mostly a hobby now, but the animals and their strength do find use on some ranches and farms.

The parade of oxen is considered one of the opening events of the Christmas season. It is organized by the Grupo de Preservación de la Tradición Boyera and the Fundación de Boyeros de Costa Rica. Boyero, of course, is the Spanish word for ox cart handler.

The event actually starts Saturday at Parque la Sabana Saturday with the Festival de Música Boyera y Campesina, which runs from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. This is like a big campout, and many of the parade participants will attend.

The reviewing stand for the ox cart parade will be at Parque Central where there will be more entertainment and a blessing of the animals.

This is the commemorative postmark
The Correos Nacional has created a commemorative postmark, called matasello in Spanish, for the event. This will be officially presented to the public today at a ceremony in front of the main post office building downtown on what is called the Boulevar del Correo.

One curious fact about the ox carts is that the brightly colored painting did not originate in the 19th century when the vehicles were in daily use. It was an Italian in Escazú who originated the bold designs at the beginning of the 20th century.

Historians generally place the development of the more ornate vehicles in the 1930s. The multicolored ox cart wheel is now an international symbol of Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 234

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Our readers’ opinions

Health problems caused
serious financial crisis

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My wife and I bought property and a house in Costa Rica in 2002, after having visited here and deciding it was the place we wanted to spend our retirement years.  Our ETA was April 2006, when I turned 65.

Prior to that we were reliant on the healthcare insurance provided by my wife’s labor union, which was a contributory policy and had very good coverage.

In 2003, my wife was terminated, along with all the other employees at her facility, so that it could be restructured.  From that point on, only non-union employees were hired.  We paid the Cobra for the 18 month allowable period ($742 per month).  When that was no longer available we were self-pay for health coverage.  Private insurance was quoted at $2,100 to $2,400 per month, because of my age.

In 2005, I became symptomatic and discovered I have stage IV kidney cancer.  It took some time for the doctors to determine what the problem was, and in the first four days in the States we spent over $15,000US just for inconclusive tests and consultations.

Costs are driven astronomically by tests and procedures that are required by doctors who need to protect themselves from the lawyers.

At that time we came to Costa Rica, where even being self-pay was reasonable affordable.  After three months of treatment, it was determined that the only course left to me was a new medication that is only available in the States and costs $7,000.00 a month. We had no choice but to wait until I reached Medicare age, which was 8 months out.

In the meantime, my disease progressed to my bones.  I had to wait until April for treatment because radiotherapy is very expensive. Finally, when Medicare and its supplements became available, I was able to get treatment.

I pay $278 per month for Medicare Part B and supplemental insurance for Medicare and prescription coverage.  Granted, it pays a very large portion of my medical expenses now, but because of it’s previous unavailability, my cancer has progessed beyond the point of hope for any cure, and I still have considerable out-of-pocket expensed that are not covered.

My point is that this is a common occurrence in the good old U.S. of A. Millions of people have no health coverage and no way to get it.

Corporate America and the U.S. Government, in my opinion, demonstrate an almost complete lack of social conscience.  Jobs are being out-sourced by the millions and government employees are on a separate healthcare and pension plan, which is paid for from taxes and gives them no motivation to change things.

At least in Costa Rica, a borderline Third-World country, health care is made available to all its citizens, and costs are kept at reasonable levels by reasonable doctors, who don’t have to worry about being hounded by lawyers.  This system is much better than the one in the States.  At least, that’s how I feel.

Ralph Antonelli
Platanillo, Pérez Zeledón

Costa Rica needs to act
to protect economy, tourists

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thursday’s letter by Richard Vienneau couldn’t have or made more sense. After purchasing a home in Costa Rica myself , I believe what Mr. Vienneau is trying to say is that “You get what you pay for.”  Costa Rica “had” a reputation for being a secure, peaceful democracy. While the majority of foreigners who got involved in Costa Rica, including myself, saw the country as an opportunity to beat the financial costs and complications associated with living in the States with less stress and cost. That is not reality.

At the present time, tourism and foreign investment is what separates Costa Rica economically from the rest of Central America and the reason why they have the immigration problems they do. You don’t see Costa Ricans jumping the border into Nicaragua. Yet.

Remember, they signed the TLC [free trade treaty] already, and they have a one-year lead into the game over Costa Rica. Well, the plus side is Ticos will have a closer border to cross for work opportunity than the U.S. once the Nicaruagan economy takes off.  As an example, how bad has Chinese economy done since they started trade with the U.S.?

One problem I see with the Costa Rican way of operating is a short-sighted,  grab-and-run, win-lose mentality. In other words, as long as they got it in their hand today, the hell with tommorow. Ripping off your client base is not a good way to build trust and long term business. Do you really see Costa Rica surviving in a competitive business environment that is based on aggressive work ethic, punctuality, dependability, and trust?

As far as tourist or expat security, nothing is being done to protect or increase it. I always said the two things that scare me most in life are desperate people and stupid people because they are both dangerous. With the armed robberies being committed against tourists, I’m scared to bring my family. The thief probably was breaking into Mr. Vienneau’s house to steal that gun on his bedpost so he could continue to shoot himself and Costa Rica economically in the foot with it.

Naturally there will be those that say, “Well if he doesn’t like Costa Rica the way it is, he can go back.” That’s true, but remember, my money goes back with me, along with the truth.  Every person who leaves is one more economic bullet to the back of the head for Costa Rica. Mr. Vienneau’s dollars are now being passed around Washington State, not Costa Rica.

I spent $1,600 in import tax to send a 16-year-old, $1,800 jeep to Costa Rica. Stop looking at Americans as walking billfolds and invest a portion of the exit tax, hotel tax, and that outrageous import tax into security and business development.

C’mon Costa Rica, stop the short sightedness. . . . Your economy is going down the drain, and I hear a sucking sound. Throw the stopper in quick!

Kris Winters
New Jersey

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But we try to give priority to those who have a new thought to add to the discussion and who have not been published recently.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 234

Hospital visit gives new meaning to term 'waiting room'
Monday I had an appointment for 8 a.m. at the Hospital San Juan de Dios.  I was told to get there by 7 a.m. because everyone had an 8 a.m. appointment.

There were 12 people in line at the reception when I arrived at 7, and there were just five people in the waiting room.   I checked in and was told to sit down until I was called to one of the doors marked ‘Orthopedic.’   Things looked pretty good.

After reading 40 pages of my novel during which no names had been called, I looked up and counted 65 people. All the seats were taken.  Even standing room was crowded.  I learned that Erica, who had a broken ankle, was accompanied by her mother, brother and daughter and that the woman in the wheelchair had two family members with her.  It seemed only Miriam and I had come alone.  Miriam was a widow and her children were at work.  Three months before, just 15 days after her husband of 40 years had died, she had fallen down a flight of stairs.  Now, she said, she had a broken shoulder and a broken heart.

I figured there were actually only 35 patients.  The rest were company.  I still had high hopes that my wait might not be long.

I have not been wearing my watch since I broke my wrist, so I was wondering what time it was.  Looking around once again, I realized that probably more Ticos own cell phones than they do watches.  The lack of watches is a perfectly good explanation to the complaints of compulsively on-time Gringos like myself as to why things don’t seem to happen on time.

By 10 o’clock, I was in with a doctor who looked over my history.  He smiled at me and said, “So, you broke your wrist playing ping pong?”  I smiled back and nodded, actually rather pleased with myself that I didn’t just fall
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

down.  He instructed me to get an x-ray and return to his office.   

Standing at the door to the x-ray department with another crowd of people, I noticed that, although people are extremely considerate on buses about giving up seats to older or handicapped people, in a hospital waiting room, forget it.  A perfectly able, pretty young woman sat for the half-hour wait in one of the two available chairs, while her patient boyfriend, two older people, a man on crutches — and I — stood.  I tried sighing heavily a couple of times, but it did me no good.

By 11, I was on my way out, making my way through the labyrinth of hallways to the cheerful “Salida” sign.  Once on the broad street in front of the hospital, I rejoiced in the sunshine and breathed the fume-filled air in relief and, yes, joy.  I don’t know what it is, but just being in the hustle and bustle of the city makes me happy and gives me energy.

I decided to walk a bit, enjoying my freedom, stopping in a pasteleria to look at the pastries, and going on to the Central Market.  My arm in a cast and sling has changed my center of balance, so I didn’t venture into the crowded market.  The doctor said to come back in three weeks, and they would remove the cast and take another x-ray.   That means it will be three weeks before I can venture onto a bus. But only three more weeks.  I have plenty to be thankful for.  I sighed, but not heavily, and hailed a taxi.

Let them pay road tax, legislators say of motorists with uninspected vehicles
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Libertario legislators think the state is being dumb when it blocks the payment of road taxes.

The two men, Mario Núñez Arias and Mario Quirós Lara, were directing their comments at the revisión técnica process and the rule that prevents motorists from paying their annual registration fee if they have not passed the revisión vehicle inspection.

The government estimates that some 80,000 vehicles have not passed the mandatory inspection.

The two legislators oppose the concept of revisión because they say the government has created a private monopoly by designating Riteve S y C the right to inspect all vehicles in the country.
"It appears to us illogical, contradictory and abhorrent for the government to place obstacles for a person who wants to pay their taxes in exchange for favoring a private monopoly," they said in a statement.

Nearly 25 percent of the marchamo fee is obligatory insurance which is being increased 600,000 colons Jan. 1 to provide 2 million colons (about $3,850) coverage for any person injured in a motor vehicle accident.

The marchamo must be paid by Jan. 1 or fines and interest charges can be levied. Banks, insurance offices and other institutions collect the fees. In exchange for the payment, the motorist gets a sticker for the vehicle's windshield. 

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros maintains a Web page where motorists may look up the marchamo charge on their vehicle. Sometimes the charge includes unpaid traffic fines.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 234

Costa Rica listed as a 'full democracy' by British magazine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is among the top 28 countries that are full democracies, according to a new index by the Intelligence Unit of the magazine The Economist. 

Of the 165 countries and two territories that were rated, just 28 were determined to be “full democracies” and only two of those countries are located in Latin America.  Costa Rica was counted among the elite group as it tied for 25th with Mauritius, the only African country to make the cut.  Uruguay, ranked 28th, is the only other Latin country to join Costa Rica as a full democracy, the report said.

The index acts as an alternative measure of democracy to that which is put out by the U.S.-based Freedom House organization, that dates back to 1970.  Authors of the Economist's version believe that they have produced an improved index by placing more emphasis on political participation and the functioning of a country's government.   
The Economist Intelligence Unit's democracy index has five main categories: Electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.

The report emphasizes that the condition of having free and fair competitive elections is of utmost importance.  Concerning civil participation, the report lists apathy and abstention as unfavorable factors in a democracy.  Canada and the United States, which in parliamentary elections have been hovering around the 50 to 60 percent turnout rate in some of the latest elections, ranked 9th and 17th.

As for the rest of the countries, 54 were rated as “flawed democracies” and 30 as “hybrid regimes.”  The remaining 55 nations are “authoritarian regimes” with North Korea receiving the worst overall ranking. 

Some of the noticeable exclusions from the “full democracy” list include, South Africa, South Korea, Italy, and Israel. 

Bridge would link two notorious downtown establishments
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Operators of the notorious Hotel Del Rey on Avenida 1 at Calle 9 are seeking to construct a pedestrian bridge between the hotel and the Key Largo bar and dance club to the east.

Permission for the bridge is on the agenda of the Consejo Municipal of San José, but it has not yet been acted upon.

The Del Rey owns the Key Largo, once a luxury home for
the city's elite. Now the structure, which has been remodeled, holds three bars and a central dance floor.

Some municipal employees suspect that the reason for the bridge is not to keep customers safe from traffic on Calle 9. Instead, they think the idea is to keep customers safe from visiting competing establishments nearby.

The Del Rey is well known as a place where men and some women meet sex industry professional. So is the Key Largo.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 234

Drag race wrapup planned for Guácima this Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fans of speed will be in Guácima Sunday for the Campeonato Nacional de Aceleración. It starts at 10 a.m. in the Autódromo La Guácima.

These are drag races, and there are a number of categories.

This is a competition that generates 20 points to the winner in each class for a seasonal championship.
The strip at Guácima does not have a 400-plus-meter stretch, which is the standard in drag racing. The track here is  340 meters, about 1,115 feet. The track also is well known for road races, which cover much more area.

Times can be less than 11 seconds in the drag races.

The races Sunday are the last of the season. During the year, anyone with a license can participate, although to be competitive a dragster is required. 

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