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(506) 223-1327               Published Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 235                  E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Time to think about getting into the Christmas spirit

By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The run-up to Christmas is a time of panicking about where you're going to find fresh cranberries, deliberating about whether you can really buy socks for your aunt for the fourth year running, and struggling through Multiplaza in Escazú like a packhorse, dodging the toy train and cursing the dancing Christmas tree.

Amid all the hassle it can be difficult to get yourself into the Christmas spirit until you finally sit down on Christmas Eve, down a swift sherry and breathe a sigh of relief that the only obstacle you have left is the cooking.

Opportunities do, however, abound in San José for a bit of old-fashioned festivity during Advent, from getting hooked on an epic cinematic adventure to joining in some Christmas carol singing with tinsel in your hair.

An Exotic Christmas

Dec. 1 and 2 - Catch the second weekend of festivities put on by Centro Nacional de la Cultura. Christmas takes on a more tropical theme with jungle decorations and plenty of marimba dancing, a concert on the Charanga, and a finale by one of Costa Rica's most popular rock bands, Gandhi.
Activities start at 11 a.m. Dec. 1, continuing until the early evening, and begin again at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 2, ending with the concert at 7 p.m.

Carol Singing

Dec. 3 - A good substitute for rosy-cheeked sing-songs round the piano is the Little Theatre Group's Christmas open-house at Café de Artistas in Escazú. Carol singing and talent shows will get everyone feeling warm inside, starting at 7 p.m. and finishing at 9 p.m.

'Messiah' in the Central Valley

Dec. 6 - Ousted from the Teatro Nacional by the impending start of the "Nutcracker," the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional will take the "Festival Navideño" to various locations around San Jose to entertain people with sections of Handel's "Messiah."

Although originally conceived for Easter, the piece has become a traditional Advent theme. The concerts begin in Teatro Melico Salazar at 8 p.m. Dec. 6, before moving on to other towns including Heredia, San Ramon and Alajuela, and finishing Dec. 14 in Desamparados. For full details visit 

Movie poster

The Golden Compass, the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel 'Northern Lights' will be in cinemas on Dec 21.


'The Nutcracker'

Dec. 7 - Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it. Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" has been keeping families entertained at Christmas since 1882, when it had its first showing in St. Petersburg, Russia, and this year is no different. Heroine Clara's fantasy dream of princesses, mice and snowflakes, inspired by a gift her magical godfather gives her on Christmas Eve, will be danced by both Costa Ricans and stars of the Ballet de Cuba.

A hoarde of 50 younger Costa Rican dancers from the Ballet Juvenil Costarricense will fill in the more minor parts. The show will start at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, and there will be 10 shows including two showings on Saturdays and Sundays until Dec. 16. Full program details:

The Festival of Light

Dec. 15 - The biggest street party of the year, San Jose's downtown always fills with people for this show of lights and floats that puts one in mind of the Christmas Coca-Cola truck, lighting up the streets as it passes. Indeed, Coca-Cola will be providing one of the 16 floats – more vehicles than the festival has ever seen before.

Officials are expecting about a million people to turn out for the entertainment, which will involve 13 marching bands, cheerleaders and the obligatory finale of fireworks.

The floats carry thousands of lights, and each is themed differently, for example the municipality's float has a medieval theme and another is Chinese. Bands compete to be the best dressed as well as the best musicians. Paseo Colón and Avenida 2 will be closed from 3 p.m. in preparation for the start of the parade at 6 p.m., continuing until 11 p.m.

Armoured bears and epic adventures

Dec. 21 - Christmas cinema always has to have at least one fantasy blockbuster that both children and adults are encouraged to enjoy, whether it be "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" or "Narnia," and this year is no different.

Desperate chases through a frozen North Pole featuring armoured bears, children with animal souls and evil beauties darting between parallel universes made Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy of books something that gripped any youngster with a willing imagination.

The adaptation is called "The Golden Compass," or in Spanish "La brujula dorada," and features almost as many stars as a clear night in Manuel Antonio. Nicole Kidman takes on the role of the evil Mrs. Coulter, while Daniel Craig is the complicated Lord Asriel.

The film has already received criticism about the dilution of themes to do with religion and power, and also pacing the movie too fast to be faithful to the book. Even so, the special effects are sure to be worth it, if the pull of Ian McKellen as a polar bear is not enough already.

A city full of horses

Dec. 26 - Similar to the parade of the boyeros that just took place Nov. 25 but with horses instead, the Tope is Costa Rica's way of celebrating Boxing Day. Riders bring their best equine specimines and costumes to the capital in a friendly  competition in Paseo Colon and Avenida 2. The tradition dates from colonial times and is celebrated all over the country, but the capital's Tope is the biggest.

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Lawmakers want to set rules
for nation's driving schools

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers will look at driving schools in an effort to inject regulation into what takes place.

The proposal comes from Guyon Massey of Restoración Nacional and other members of the Asamblea Legislativa.

A bill would set minimum requirements for driving schools. In addition, a registration requirement would create a list of driving schools so that officials would know how many schools are operating in the country.

Expats who come to Costa Rica with a valid license from their home country have no problem is getting a Costa Rican license by simply visiting a license bureau with a medical certificate and the valid license.

Costa Ricans and others who do not already have a valid license must take extensive coursework and then take practical training. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas provides a test of the coursework and later a practical test on the road with an evaluator.

Some would-be motorists have been known to circumvent this procedure with well-placed gifts.

Those who are seeking the license legally and from scratch must spend time in the classroom, although some schools offer training via the Internet. Behind-the-wheel training also is offered by some schools and can run several hundred dollars.

Massy said that now schools have no supervision. His bill would provide that and also provide minimum requirements for vehicles used by the schools to teach drivers.

The goal would be to reduce the slaughter on the highways. Massey said that he wants to create a culture that would first eliminate the bad habits of instructors and then work on safe handling of vehicles. The curriculum would be subject to review.

Christian books are sought
for prison inmates here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christian Library International is currently hosting a Christian book drive for prison inmates in Costa Rica, ending on Dec. 30.  The organization said it is looking for all forms of Christian literature, from Bibles and Bible studies to Christian fiction and biographies, in both English and Spanish.  Donors can drop off books at the Escazú Christian Fellowship and the Lexicon Lending Library in San Rafael de Escazú.

Christian Library International has been working primarily with prisons in the United States since 2002 and plans to move about 100,000 books this year, according to the founder and missions director, Anders Skaar. He said of his goal:  “We'd like to get a million books, but we need a million donated first.”

This mission project is the organization's first in Costa Rica and, if it is a success, Skaar said he would like to make this a regularly scheduled activity, perhaps annually or maybe even twice a year.

Kathleen Skaar, executive director said the organization started getting lots of letters from inmates about how much getting a book meant to them and how their lives had changed. "We hope and pray that the same thing will happen in Costa Rica, that it will be a need that everyone will appreciate,” she said.

New U.N. campaign seeks
more laws protecting women

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.N. Development Fund for Women has launched a new advocacy campaign to end violence against women. The fund has recruited Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman to help promote the campaign, which is an Internet-based initiative that asks people to sign a "virtual book" that promotes women's rights.

The U.N. Fund says violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violation around the world. Women are subjected to domestic violence, trafficked across borders, and the victims of systematic rape in conflict zones, the international organization said.

The United Nations said it estimates that one in three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. The Development Fund for Women seeks to bring global attention to the issue and promote gender equality.

At a news conference, Ms. Kidman said she was proud to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Fund. She says the new Internet campaign called "Say No to Violence Against Women," will increase global awareness of the issue.

"We know that violence against women is a problem, but we know there is also a solution," said Ms. Kidman.

Joanne Sandler, the acting executive director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women, said a growing number of organizations and governments are taking steps to end violence against women and have also pledged their support for the new internet campaign and Web site,

Ms. Sandler says the Web site will serve as a source of information on the issue. She says the virtual book will amplify the number of voices urging governments to take serious steps to end violence against women.

Ms. Sandler says at least 89 countries now have laws on domestic violence. But, this means more than 200 nations have no such protections.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 235

Bad company

Arias brothers find themselves on a banner with Hitler and Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Union members say they are the same kind of dictator.

Hitler banner
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson

Union leader promises a general strike as treaty bills get OK
By Elise Sonray, José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A telecommunications union boss promises a general strike when laws implementing the free trade treaty with the United States are passed.

That was the word Monday from Fabio Chávez, president of the Asociación Sindical de Empleados del Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The institute, known as ICE, is the telecommunications monopoly as well as a generator of electricity.

Chávez made his threat during a protest by mostly union members Monday.

Chávez did not say when the general strike would begin, but he did say that groups around the country including the insurance workers, so-called patriotic committees and students would participate. Lawmakers are trying to pass a dozen laws that incorporate the agreements in the treaty into Costa Rican law. They have a deadline early next year.

The protesters marched from the ICE headquarters in Sabana Norte to the Asamblea Legislativa in Avenida Central in downtown San José. Participation was much less than previous protests.

Another union leader, Jorge Arguedas, told protesters that President Óscar Arías Sánchez, Adolf Hitler and Augusto Pinochet are all alike. His words were greeted with cheers. Protesters even had a 10-foot banner showing Arias, his brother Rodrigo and Pinochet, the former dictator in Chile, and Hitler. Marchers carried the banner the length of the walk.

“We are here today to march to the tribunal so Arias will throw out the referendum,” said the designer of the Arias-Hitler sign, an ICE worker who identified himself as Mario Malaco Pizarro, “But I doubt we can stop the laws from passing with a dictator in office,” Pizarro said. “Even if the laws pass we will fight to the death.”

Other workers denied the laws would pass at all. “I don't believe they are going to pass, I hope they won't pass, they won't pass” said Mayela Solano Gonzales, an ICE worker wearing a yellow hard hat and carrying a Costa Rican flag.

One proposed law removes the monopoly that ICE has in telecommunications and opens the wireless industry to competition.
The march included hundreds of ICE employees as well as students and employees from the private sector and others. Although this march was the biggest since the Oct. 7 referendum, attendance did not compare to the marches before the vote, said one veteran reporter. Unlike the rules under the Abel Pacheco administration, public employees who take off work to protest do not receive their salary for the time they are gone. ICE facilities appeared to be operating normally Monday.

One 66-year old protester said she did not work for ICE nor was she affiliated with any party. “The phone company is my good friend,” she said. “My first phone was from ICE, and I love the company a lot” The woman, Teresa Agüero, held an umbrella in one hand and bright yellow flag and a sign which said “to defend ICE is to love the mother land” in the other. All the while she jumped, ran and danced.

Costa Rican voters approved the free trade treaty Oct. 7 by a bit more than a 3 percent margin. So opponents have turned their signs on defeating the proposed laws in the assembly even though the ruling party coalition has a two-thirds majority. Many opponents claim the vote results were fraudulent and claim without evidence that the referendum was rigged.

Persons who appeared to be students were protesting another proposed law Monday night on the pedestrian mall in the city's downtown. Some were pounding on drums. They carried signs in opposition to a measure that will allow a plant scientist or firm to maintain what amounts to a patent on new varieties of plants or microorganisms that may be created in the lab. A companion measure would cause Costa Rica to adopt the Treaty of Budapest that already is in force in more than 60 countries. The treaty regulates depositing lab-produced microorganisms at a specific site for purposes of identification and patenting.

Opponents say that farmers should be free to harvest and plant this year's seeds next year. Farmers would be required to purchase patented seeds annually, just like they do now with seeds of hybrid varieties that do not breed true.

Another measure passed 32 to 11 by the full assembly Monday night.This is a law that changes the civil code and regulations between foreign firms and their agents here. Opponents said they do not want firms here to be forced to arbitrate their grievances with foreign firms in a foreign venue. Some foreign companies say they do not trust the backlogged Costa Rica courts.

Hotel operators near Tamarindo report water tests show there's no pollution
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hotel owners in Playa Langosta have become so worried about the negative image conveyed by the recent reports of pollution in Tamarindo that they solicited a new study of their own waters to prove the cleanliness of their beach.

A group of hoteliers paid Laboratorio Biotec S.A. to test nine sites around Playa Langosta, Playa Grande and the southern end of Playa Tamarindo. All are on the Pacific coast of Guanacaste.

The tests all showed that the sea contained far less than the maximum limit of the fecal coliform bacteria that has given Tamarindo so much trouble, said the report.

Two studies, conducted at the beginning and in the middle of November, found that the water contained an average of less than 50 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliter, well within
 the boundary of 400 that is officially considered as safe for swimming.

Although his hotel has not suffered any cancellations this high season, Giancarlo Pucci, director of Boutique Hotel and Villas Cala Luna, was one of those keen to clear the name of Playa Langosta.

“We knew we had a really clean beach and we wanted to prove this,” he said. “Playa Langosta has had the blue flag for several years, and this confirms that we deserve it.”

He added that there is not much commercial development on the beach, and all new hotels have their own sewage treatment plants, unlike in Tamarindo.

The beach is separated from Playa Tamarindo by a headland, but the centers of the two towns lie about 2 kms. apart.

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U.N. official urges deep cuts in emissions to stem warming
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A top official of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says countries will have to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impact of rising global temperatures.

Environmental experts are preparing to discuss how to tackle climate change at a U.N. sponsored conference in Indonesia next month.

The chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, R.K. Pachauri, said that steps taken by countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions "are totally inadequate" to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Pachauri addressed reporters in New Delhi after a recently released panel report stated the evidence for climate change is "unequivocal."

The report says there is 90 percent chance that climate change is caused by human activity. It warns that millions of people could be affected by more heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and smaller harvests.

Pachauri says it is important for both developed and developing countries to act quickly.

"I think what is going to be critically important is for all
the countries to realize that we are in it together," he said. "I mean that is the first common conclusion we have to arrive at that is we have to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."

Most experts say that greenhouse gases, produced mainly by burning fossil fuels for energy, are causing much of the global warming seen in recent decades.

Pachauri says the current path of development is clearly not sustainable. He says lifestyle changes have been identified as an important measure to reduce the impact of rising global temperatures.

According to Pachauri, these are not drastic measures, but steps that societies can take.

"This change of lifestyles does not really mean that we start going back start living in caves all over again," he added.

"Basically it just means a shift which gives you all the goods and services and benefits that modern living involves, but with a much lower footprint in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases societies will have to decide what they can and want to do."

Pachauri cites some examples: moving away from personal transport to public transport and buildings designed to use less energy.

Man dies and 80 others detained during protests of Venezuelan reforms
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan authorities say a 19-year-old man has been shot dead during an anti-government protest in the central state of Carabobo. They also say 80 other people have been detained in protests elsewhere.

Officials say the incidents happened Monday as the demonstrators took to the streets ahead of this coming Sunday's referendum on proposed constitutional reforms sought by President Hugo Chávez.

The proposals include eliminating presidential term limits and establishing socialist reforms. Also among them are proposals to give authorities sweeping powers if a national
 emergency is declared, including detention without charges and controls on the news media. The plan has been condemned by Venezuela's opposition parties, human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church.

A recent poll shows that Venezuelan voters oppose the reforms by a wide margin. The polling company Datanalisis announced Saturday that 49 percent of likely voters oppose the reforms, while 39 percent favor the changes.

Separately, former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Isaias Baduel said last week that he predicts Venezuelans will vote against the reforms. He has previously said the changes would amount to a coup by Chávez.

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