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(506) 2223-1327        Published Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 234       E-mail us
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Traditional bueyes get ready to welcome Christmas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday marks the official start of the Christmas season in San José.

The kickoff will be highlighted by the traditional Entrada de Santos y Boyeros, which is a procession of carretas pulled by bueyes with santos aboard. Boyeros are the men who care for and lead oxen, and the bueyes are the oxen,  giants who lumber without complaint.

It has been traditional for the ox cart drivers to assemble the Saturday before at Parque La Sabana for the Festival Campesino, where the rural celebrations of songs, dances and food take hold. The public is invited to this, too.

The ox carts provided the transportation from the Central Valley and elsewhere to the Pacific port of Puntarenas for the golden grain that thrust Costa Rica into the international marketplace. The coffee grains travel in more modern fashion now, but the carreta or ox cart lingers on with some use in muddy rural fincas. The boyeros may look rural as they lead their beasts up Paseo Colón and Avenida 2, but under those wide-brimmed hats there may be a lawyer or a physician or some other professional. Keeping hungry bueyes can be an expensive hobby.

The brightly painted ox cart is a Costa Rican icon but most of the fancy work did not appear until the early days of the 20th century when an Italian in Escazú began to imitate the carts of his native country.

The santos or saints are the wooden representations of holy men, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. A life-size San José, the municipality's patron, usually takes the lead cart.

The morning procession of ox carts is a show stopper and a photographic must for tourists.

Costa Ricans take their ox carts seriously, and so does the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which dubbed the oxen and carts as intangible cultural heritage.

Another tradition begins Dec. 8. This is the  avenidazo or celebrations along Avenida Central and the pedestrian boulevard in downtown San José in conjunction with the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz. The Noches Culturales Navideñas include musical groups and the tradition of throwing confetti at passers-by, a
fiest de San Jose
festival de la luz
San Jose
A.M Costa Rica file photo
 A statue of San José with the child Jesus 
 usually leads the procession. This is a 2006 
 shot.


practice the municipality is trying to end.

Dec. 13 is the traditional parade of lights dedicated this year to María José Castillo, the Latin American Idol runnerup. Hundreds of thousands of people (The city says a million) will line the parade route to see elaborate floats, called carrozas in Spanish, bands and other entertainers. Oh, yeah, the chubby guy in the red suit, too. The show starts in La Sabana at 6 p.m. with fireworks. Then marchers go up Paseo Colón and Avenida 2.

Dec. 25, Christmas Day, begins the Fiesta de San José at the Zapote fairgrounds. This carnival runs until Jan. 4 this year. Here is where Ticos and Ticas show off their bravery by getting in the ring with a 1,200-pound fighting bull. The Cruz Roja and first aid experts will be in attendance.

The Tope Nacional, the celebration of horsemanship, takes place the day after Christmas as the capital is flooded with thousands of horses and riders who also occupy a traditional role in this mostly agricultural country.



Lawmakers OK 2009 budget but not without debate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature approved on first reading Monday the nation's budget for 2009. the vote was 27 to 16. 

Libertarians and the Partido Acción Ciudadana opposed the program of expenditures.

Despite economic conditions, the budget totals 4 billón colons or 18.1 percent higher than the current year. That's about $7.3 billion because the Spanish word billón translates to the English trillion.

The budget includes a 37.5 percent increase for the  Ministerio de Educación Pública and authorization for 2,132 new employees. The Ministerio de Salud, the health ministry, received a 37.8 percent increase and authorization for 568 persons. The Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes got a 51.7 increase.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública received authorization for 988 new
positions, and the Poder Judicial will be able to hire 1,241 more employees.

The budget anticipates some 119,380 persons working for the central government, courts and legislature.

The increases are not as large as they may seem because the budget incorporates a devaluation of the colon, which may be as much as 15 percent this year. As usual, much of the budget is financed by short and long-term debt.

The measure still has to be approved for a second and final time, expected Wednesday, before going to President Óscar Arias Sánchez for his signature.

Acción Ciudadana lawmakers objected principally to what they said was a budget built on indicators of income and inflation that were not realistic.
The libertarians said the budget was not economical, efficient and effective.


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Watchdog unit rips process
leading to Sardinal pipeline


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría de la República released Monday a scathing critique of the controversial Sardinal-Playas del Coco water line project and said that it has discovered serious faults and omissions in the legal process.

The Contraloría ordered the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados to begin steps to void the estimated 4,127 permits for water service issued in the area on the strength of the proposed water line.

The Contraloría also ordered the Secretaria Tecnica National Ambiental, the environmental watchdog for the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecommunicaciones, to begin administrative hearings for those employees who approved the water line without completing all the legal steps.

The report is bad news for developers in the Playas del Coco area.  They had chipped in $8 million to build the line to bring water to the Pacific beach town. However, residents in Sardinal, encouraged by environmentalists and students from the Central Valley, objected to the project that they thought would take water from their town.

Monday the Poder Judicial released a Sala IV constitutional court decision that said a full-scale water study would have to be done in the beach communities with particular attention to the aquifers below ground.

The Contraloría said that water availability permits never should have been issued on the strength of the proposed line. It also said that there were technical faults, including the fact that the contractor did not pay a 1 percent tax on construction.

The agency said that permits which are needed to obtain a building permit should not have been issued until the water line project was inspected and accepted. And the Contraloría said that the project should not have been authorized without detailed studies of the aquifers involved in Sardinal.

Two men die in shootings
at Central Valley bars


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two bloody bar shootouts left two men dead during separate incidents Sunday evening.

In the Bar San Diego in Tres Ríos, Orlando Alfonso Thomson Denis, 55, was enjoying a drink at 7:30 p.m. when three masked men burst in carrying firearms. According to the local Fuerza Pública, the men proceeded to rob customers of their belongings and also took 300,000 colones from the bar cashier.

Police say that when approached, Thomson behaved as though he thought the robbery was a joke and proceeded to question the three men. In response, one man shot him in the chest, killing him on the spot.

In a separate incident, a man of Colombian descent was killed early Monday morning, at the Seventh Heaven bar on Avenida 7 and Calle 8. According to police, two men entered the bar and began firing wildly, before running away. Owners closed the bar and kicked out all the customers, and only later discovered the body of Jeison Riosca Perea underneath a table. He was killed after receiving one bullet to the head and another to the abdomen.

A similar shootout also occurred at Seventh Heaven Jan. 1.

Environmental referendum
idea goes back to committee


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature has sent back to committee a proposed law that would let residents vote on environmental decisions.

The proposed law had been vetoed by President Óscar Arias Sánchez. But the measure probably will be reborn because it passed the legislature Oct. 27 with 48 votes.

The law intrudes on the powers of the executive branch and is contrary to the Costa Rican Constitution, said Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, brother to the president and minister of the Presidencia.

The veto was praised by the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, which said the measure, if adopted, would have allowed residents to reject proposals for landfills, housing for the poor and other projects of broad demand. The organization also said that such a law would stop the construction of dams.

Lawmakers sent the measure back to the Comisión Permanente Especial de Ambiente with a proposed addition that some felt would make it more palatable to President Arias.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 234

Planks provide the only way to get around the damage in the bridge at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Playa Grande bridge
Photo by Saskia Wolff

It's like 'three storms put together' hitting Limón province
By Elyssa Pachico
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans in the Caribbean and northern zone are waking up today to the eighth straight day of rain. About 4,000 of them are in shelters because of heavy flooding and rivers running out of their banks.

The national emergency commission said that 50 shelters were active, most of them in the Talamanca canton of the Provincia de Limón where 1,746 persons were housed. However, shelters also were in operation in Matina, Sarapiquí, Siquirres and San Jerónimo de Moravia. The commission counted 35 damaged highways and reported that Limón was cut off from the rest of the country because the main highway from San José was cut off by multiple landslides in the mountains and heavy flooding at Matina. Alternate routes, like the one from Turrialba to Siquirres, also are blocked.

The Caribbean coast faced the possibility of a tropical cyclone Monday morning as a low pressure area strengthened, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. The southern Caribbean coast alone experienced close to 80 mm (3.1 inches) of rain early Monday. The Instituto estimates that 545 mm (21.5 inches) of rain have fallen in the last week alone. The monthly average is 372 mm (14.6 inches), the institute said.

Manuel Pinto, owner of Caribe Real Estate and resident in Punto Uva in southern Limón, barely escaped the mudslides and flooding that have affected hundreds of homes in the area.

“I've been here for six years, and we've never seen anything like this,” he said. “It's like three storms put together, one after another, and the effects are devastating.”

Pinto, whose house is located 800 meters off the main road at Punto Uva, had to evacuate his house Friday after floodwater breached the bridge leading to his house. A massive mudslide took out the road leading to his front door – and almost took him out as well.

“I'd gone to investigate the bridge on Friday night when I looked up and saw a wall of forest coming straight at me,” he said. “So I ran, ran, ran, ran, ran, and hit the ground before they hit me. I thought I was dead. It was a mass of giant trees crawling towards me — they've got a span of 10, 20 meters with the branches” (32 to 65 feet).

Pinto and his two daughters have relocated to a friend's home in Punto Uva, one which is not surrounded by trees.

“I'm a little neurotic about that now, to tell the truth,” he said. He estimates he will have to pay up to $10,000 just to clear out the roads leading to his house, with another $10,000 to $20,000 to build reinforcements to prevent future landslides.

There are currently 1,743 people seeking refuge in 17 emergency lodgings in Talamanca. In Matina, 903 people have had to evacuate their homes, while 552 people have evacuated in Siquirres. San Jerónimo de Moravia has reported 27 evacuations, and Limón has reported 16. That does not count the numbers who, like Pinto, are staying with friends or family.

Four dikes and two other bridges also have suffered heavy damage, the emergency commission said. One dike, El Naranjal en Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, reputured and blocked more evacuations, said the Cruz Roja.
Playa Negra bridge
Photo by Wendy Strebe
Another view: Youngster and others face the hole ripped in the deck of the bridge

Roads have also been heavily damaged, with 35 roads currently reported as unfit for driving. Route 32 heading into Matina has been cut off. Heavy flooding has shut down all roads between Bribrí and Sixaola, as well as the alternate route between Turrialba and Siquirres.

Wendy Strebe, owner of Cashew Hill Lodge in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, said that blocked roads have essentially cut off Puerto Viejo temporarily from the rest of the province.

“We've had guests cancel reservations,” she said. “People simply can't get here.”

Puerto Viejo has been especially impacted after losing part of the cement bridge which leads into the town's main entrance. Consequently, the town is now inaccessible by vehicle, although commuters still cross the bridge by walking on two wooden planks.

Depending on today's weather, officials in Puerto Viejo said that vehicles should arrive by the Margarita road, coming in from Playa Cocles. 

Roads in the southermost parts of Limón have also experienced severe damage, said Pinto, making driving extremely risky.

“It's like no rules exist anymore,” he said. “Everything's sliding everywhere that shouldn't have been sliding. The land is melting, and the trees are falling with it.”

“Punto Uva is usually a beautiful cove filled with primary jungle,” he added. “Now you look at it and it's half red, because half the jungle slid away.”

Both Limón and the Cantón de Sarapiquí in Heredia remain highly at risk for massive floodings, said the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. The commision has been distributing food, blankets, and water throughout these regions both through ground personnel and by helicopter, but there are some  isolated communities that remain highly at risk, officials said.

Rains are expected to continue in varying intensity across the Caribbean coast, hitting the southern areas the hardest. The Central Valley, meanwhile, will continue to see only a weak scattering of clouds and rains, while strong winds will continue to hit the northern Pacific coast.

Even though the Instituto Meteorológical Nacional said that the weather would improve today, heavy rains were falling early today in San José. The institute expected the conditions to improve later in the day.


Libertarios want intelligence unit disbanded and investigated
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Movimiento Libertario, a minority party in the Asamblea Legislativa, wants to disband the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional because the party says the organization amounts to a secret police in the control of the executive branch.

The intelligence organization has been in the news because its acting director is facing allegations that he was involved in a long-running check fraud scheme in which he used his investigative access to finger rich victims.

The Libertarios issued a press statement that also called for turning over the files of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad to the Judicial Investigating Organization to see
if any laws were broken. The statement suggested that illegal wiretapping might have taken place. The Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad has no oversight, the statement said.

The statement also said that the budget for the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad should be turned over to the police ministry to enhance citizen security. The statement said that the budget represented 48 colons a day for each Costa Rican. That's about nine cents a day.

The Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad reports directly to the minister of the Presidencia, and very little is known of its operations. However, it also is the local representative of the International Police Agency, and it is in charge of capturing foreign felons.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 234

found weapons
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos
Here are the weapons that represent a weekend haul for the Fuerza Pública
Loads of weapons fall into police hands during sweeps over the weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How can police tell if a man is not just carrying a firearm for self protection? Maybe if he also is carrying a black ski mask.

That was the scene Friday in Moravia when the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional of the Fuerza Pública pulled over a fancy, white Ford Explorer. The two men inside declined to step out of the car, so they were arrested at gunpoint, police said.

It turns out that each man had a .45-caliber pistol and a
black ski mask, officers reported. The men, both from Jamaica, were detained.

In similar manners, officers turned up a variety of firearms during weekend sweeps of the Cantón de Goicoechea, including Mata de Plátano, Los Cuadros, Purral and Ipís. Fuerza Pública officers detained some 28 persons to face various charges. But they also turned up an unlicensed .22 caliber pistol on a man who has a police record for robbery.

In San Juan de Dios de Desamparados Sunday anti-drug agents made an arrest and confiscated a .38 caliber revolver as well as suspected crack cocaine.


Russian ships expected to arrive in Venezuelan waters today
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department said it will keep a close eye on upcoming Russian-Venezuelan naval maneuvers but dismissed the idea that they represent a challenge to U.S. influence in the region.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Monday there is no question about who the Latin American region looks to in terms of political, economic diplomatic and military power.

But McCormack said he did not think the planned naval exercises were meant to be provocative.

Russian ships, including the nuclear-powered heavy cruiser "Pyotr Veliky." are due to arrive in Venezuela today for the
joint military exercises. It will be the first time since the end of the Cold War that the Russian navy has sailed into the region.

Their arrival will coincide with a two-day visit to Venezuela by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. 

Medvedev is scheduled to arrive in Caracas Wednesday as part of a Latin American tour that includes Brazil and Cuba. While in the Venezuelan capital, he will meet with President Hugo Chávez, an outspoken critic of the U.S. government who has been seeking closer relations with Moscow.

The Kremlin leader met this past week with U.S. President George Bush at a summit of Pacific Rim countries in Lima, Peru. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 234



A.M. Costa Rica
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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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U.N. food organization
chief wants new order


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, has appealed to world leaders to meet together next year to design a new agricultural order and find $30 billion a year to eradicate hunger from the earth once and for all.

Addressing a special session of the organization's 191-member-nation governing conference, Diouf declared the world summit was needed because, “After more than 60 years it is essential to create a new system of world food security”.

The director-general continued: “We must correct the present system that generates world food insecurity on account of international market distortions resulting from agricultural subsidies, customs tariffs and technical barriers to trade, but also from skewed distribution of resources of official development assistance and of national budgets of developing countries”.

The summit, proposed for the first half of 2009, “should lay the ground for a new system of governance of world food security and an agricultural trade that offers farmers, in developed and developing countries alike, the means of earning a decent living,” he said. “We must have the intelligence and imagination to devise agricultural development policies together with rules and mechanisms that will ensure not only free but also fair international trade.”

The summit should also “come up with $30 billion per year to build rural infrastructure and increase agricultural productivity in the developing world,” Diouf said.

Proposing to commit such a sum to save humanity from hunger was not unreasonable given it had taken only a few weeks to find more than 100 times that amount to deal with a global financial meltdown, he said. The amount was modest compared to $365 billion of total support to agriculture in Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development countries in 2007 and $1.3 trillion in world military expenditure the same year by developed and developing countries, he added.

Late last month at the World Food Day celebration in New York, in the presence of former president Bill Clinton, Diouf suggested that the United States take a lead in convening the Summit.

At the proposed meeting, state and government heads should also agree to create an emergency intervention fund to provide rapid-reaction resources to boost food production in poor countries heavily dependent on food imports, Diouf said.


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