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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 236       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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thanksgiving BANNER
A true Latin American Thanksgiving is hard to find
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As an expat who grew up in Latin America, I never understood Thanksgiving. My first introduction to the holiday was in kindergarten, where I was one of the only Americans in an international school. As part of an activity that was supposed to teach us all about this strange, American holiday, our Latina teacher divided the class into two groups, Pilgrims and Indians.

At first, the Indians were met with some snickers, since to call someone an indio was the kind of playground insult you used for kids who ate sand or who still wet their pants after morning snack. All laughter quickly died away, however, once the Indian kids got to put on their costumes. They wore beautiful feathered headbands made out of cardboard, decorated with white and yellow glitter that I guess was supposed to represent the precious stones that white people later stole from them.

I was a Pilgrim. I had to wear a squat, black cardboard hat with an ugly buckle in the middle. Thanksgiving stinks, I thought.

Then it was time to eat the Thanksgiving bounty together. There was no turkey, or cranberry sauce, or sweet potatoes, or pumpkin pie. Instead, somebody's mother had volunteered to bring in a massive cauldron full of sancocho, a traditional corn, chicken and potato soup usually eaten by coffee farmers in the mountains. I remember picking corn kernels out of my teeth, looking at the classroom calendar and wondering why the month of November was decorated with strange, fat red-headed birds with floppy jowls, not to mention falling orange-colored leaves.

Next we had to use crayons to draw a horn of plenty. Nobody had any idea what this was, so our teacher used a slideshow projector to screen an example on the whiteboard. I thought it looked a little bit like the spreads I would see during Saturday mercados, except what were those strange yellow cucumbers doing there, and why had someone dumped in the big orange Halloween fruit? I wouldn't actually taste squash or pumpkin for another 15 years.

In the United States, so much of Thanksgiving is tied with feelings and images of autumn — it's apple cider season, the last long weekend before the first hard frost. Growing up in the tropics, however, the idea of trees shedding their leaves seemed a little insane to me. When I first saw my full-blown New England autumn, I grudgingly admitted that the wreaths of red and yellow leaves that covered the hillsides were, well,  nice-looking, but it was nothing compared to fat raindrops running off a banana leaf or a ripe mango plopping on the ground.

My family tried to celebrate American-style Thanksgivings at home, but it was hard. My father could never pack more than one extra clean shirt for his annual business trips to D.C., because my mother expected him to come back with half his suitcase filled with cans of cranberry sauce and pumpkin mix. There was never any big football game or Macy's Day parade, although we could watch the Miss Caribe beauty pageant on Telemundo. The heat wave always came in November, so even when my mother spent hours sweating over pots of gravy and bread pudding, during dinner we would skip the hot dishes and head straight to the cool bowls of exotic cranberry, the massive pitchers of iced limonada, anything that was seasoned with lemon or cilantro.

The more I learned about Thanksgiving, the odder it sounded to me, and I would increasingly experience the strange feeling that, as an American growing up outside of North America, I was missing out on something. One year, in an effort to cultivate what I felt was some real, U.S.A. Thanksgiving spirit, I decided to do as Squanto did and plant some fish in the ground, in order to help the harvest.

I took my tuna sandwich to the back of the playground and scraped it clean, then carefully buried it beneath a thick layer of dirt. I decided, 

in what I felt was a true flash of Pilgrim ingenuity, I would even make a little "DO NOT STEP" sign that would keep away the other kids, and allow the fish to fertilize at will.

At the end of recess, near the swing set, I noticed a group of boys standing in a ring around my Thanksgiving offering. By the time I made it over there, it was too late. They had stamped my pitiful sign into the dirt, leaving nothing but a wet, muddy rag behind. Their sneakers smelled of stale tuna fish for the rest of the afternoon.

As I grew older, I longed for the kinds of Thanksgivings you see in American movies. I wanted pies cooling on the windowsill, breath that fogged in the air when you exhaled. I would even take a horde of mean grandparents and bratty cousins, since, growing up in Latin America, my family was thousands of miles away from any blood relations.

A few years before I left Latin America, my parents agreed to attend a Thanksgiving celebratory dinner, where, per usual, we would be the only American family. I decided I would make an All American apple pie, the kind that no panaderia or supermercado would ever sell. I was a little iffy about the pie crust though. How was I supposed to get all that U.S.-imported butter and flour to stick together and still come out with that perfect, Hollywood-style flakiness? I decided to knead it roughly until my hands were sore, like our empleada always did when kneading dough to make us empanadas.

At the Thanksgiving party, I took one look at the buffet table and groaned silently inside. This was no Thanksgiving! People had brought bowls of arroz con leche and fresh ceviche. Every other dish was seasoned with either cilantro or lemon juice. There wasn't even a whole turkey to be carved, just a big plate with sliced ham and pork.

When it came time for dessert, I made a big show of taking a dessert knife and delicately sinking it into my All American Apple Pie, a glamorous, adult smile on my face. My smile froze as I then struggled to free the knife. Apparently, pie dough is meant to be treated delicately, not kneaded like a batch of empanadas.  The crust came out hard and crunchy, like a deep fried chicharrón.  My mother was the only person who loyally managed to finish an entire slice.

Now, after years of living in the United States and celebrating multiple Thanksgivings with all the turkeys, autumn leaves and squash that I could dream of, I am once again spending this Thanksgiving season in Latin America. I'll be making apple pie again. Maybe a turkey too, if I can find one.

And this time, I'll definitely be serving a couple of dishes that feature a lot of lemon and cilantro.

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Aid sought to help victims
of recent wave of flooding

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cruz Roja has issued a call for material and financial aid for those hit by heavy flooding on the Caribbean coast and in the northern zone.

The Cruz Roja Costarricense said that the most pressing need now is for bottled water and non-perishable foodstuffs.

The Ministerio de Salud, the health ministry, has expressed concern about diseases that might be spread by bad water. The ministry also is concerned that the flooding will cause an increase in the cases of dengue and even malaria.

The situation is critical in some places that have been cut off since at least Sunday. Sixaola, for example, was reached by helicopter for the first time Wednesday. Many residents there are living on the second floor of homes because the first floor is flooded.

Daily commerce has been halted.

The red cross also said that water, foodstuffs and clothes in good condition can be dropped off at any Cruz Roja or emergency commission office. It also gave these bank account numbers for those who might want to make a cash donation:

100100-7 Banco Nacional (colons)
176003-3 Banco de Costa Rica (colons)
204-6 Banco de Costa Rica (dollars)

The government issued a decree of emergency and said that 2 billion colons would be available for immediate emergency intervention. That's about $3.7 million. Rodrigo Arias and other central government officials visited some of the affected areas Wednesday. He and Francisco Antonio Pacheco, the president of the assembly, are filling in for the president, who left for an international meeting in Dubai.

The emergency decree makes it easier for the central government to move money around and reallocate funds.

An estimated 6,500 persons are in shelters because of the nine days of rain and some 20,000 have been affected, according to Daniel Gallardo, head of the national emergency commission. For example, banana exportation has halted. Workers have lost pay and producers and transport providers have lost millions.

Matina and Talamanca are the hardest hit in the Provincia de Limón. Sixaola is in Talamanca, and that town is 90 percent under water, Gallardo said

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca also was cut off from vehicle traffic, and the transit ministry promised Wednesday that passage would be reestablished at least by Monday. The problem is a damaged bridge. Crews of the Ministerio de  Obras Públicas y Transportes will install a temporary span.

Coincidentally, officials said Wednesday that the country is seeking a $65 million line of credit with the Banco Internacional de Reconstrucción y Fomento to mitigate disaster possibilities.

In addition to the main highway to Panamá through Sixaola, which remains closed, officials said that there were 15 stretches of secondary road that remain closed because of washouts, slides or fractured bridges. These are gradually being brought back into service.

The worst of the weather appears to have past. A low pressure area that caused the problems is breaking up, although moderate rain is expected through Sunday, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

About 4 p.m. Wednesday three more helicopters manned by U.S. servicemen arrived in Costa Rica to help officials reach isolated communities. They join other helicopters and their crews that arrived Tuesday. They also are helping out in nearby Panamá, which also sustained heavy flooding.

Our reader's opinion
President Arias has done
right with immigration bill

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Let’s face it.

The immigration play is a smart one. Don Óscar obviously is thinking a few moves ahead here. China has probably tipped him off to the upcoming U.S. economic future, which does not appear to be favorable. So Don Óscar believes, and probably rightly, that Costa Rica should not and cannot be a receptacle for thousands of U.S. citizens with worthless dollars  (due to the huge printing of U.S. currency) that will overburden the social resources here.

Don Óscar understand what most U.S. citizens do not understand, or apparently refuse to accept: if the huge amount of currency put on the books of banks does not return to the Federal Reserve Bank, as figured in the bailout scheme, our currency will be worth much less. How much less is anyone’s guess, but by the amounts proposed in the immigration bill, it looks like Don Óscar is figuring around 50 percent less. Therefore, the proposed amounts of money required to qualify for residency will be worth much less in actual value.

Let’s face it, the failings of key politicians who have “governed” in the U.S. has forced a prudent president, such as Don Óscar, to be proactive –— therefore, I hold him blameless. If we would have had such proactive leadership in the U.S., we might not be where we are today. Regrettably, only for the future of U.S. citizen looking to retire in Costa Rica, I salute Don Óscar’s attempt to safeguard Costa Rica and only wish that U.S. politicians had had the same sense of responsibility and obligation to the United States.

However, Don Óscar has failed to consider one thing vital to Costa Rica, which is the U.S. security blanket that has covered this defenseless nation for many years. However, as Don Óscar has shown with the Chinese, to him it is all about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Because of the advantage of not having to spend its limited resources on national defense, Costa Rica should cut those who presented this advantage some slack.
Phil Baker
U.S.A. / Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 236

Escazú Christian Fellowship

Pacific developer faces demand for $2 million in damages
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the first environmental case involving projects cited this year along the Pacific, the nation's environmental court says a conservation district is seeking $2,124,509 in damages against Hermosa Vista, a 60-hectare (148-acre) development 15 minutes south of Jacó.

A hearing was to have begun Wednesday in the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo of the environmental ministry.

The project has been frozen since environmental inspectors and judges visited the site in March. The owner was identified as Route General Services, which is represented by Sean Gleason, said the tribunal.

The Área de Conservación del Pacífico Central, the accuser in the civil case, said that developers swept away an entire mountain to clear places for some of the proposed 100 condos. The case also alleges that workmen filled in ditches that feed the sea near the Refugio  Nacional de Vida Silvestre Playa Hermosa-Punta Mala.

Some 4,500 cubic meters (5,886 cubic yards) are supposed to have been dumped there, according to the tribunal.

Engineers who inspected the area for the tribunal reported that some 9.4 hectares (23 acres) were heavily damaged in the process of building roads and terraces for condo sites, said the tribunal. This includes uprooting trees, it said.

The engineers called the damage incurable, the tribunal said.
Hermosa Vista project
Tribunal Ambiental Administrativa photo
The tribunal said that this mountain was part of the property torn away to create spots for houses and that many trees were marked for removal.

The project was cited and frozen in the first sweep of the year.  Developers of a number of other projects will be haled before the same tribunal as a result of that sweep and others conducted throughout the year. There also were sweeps on the Caribbean coast.

Some developers are making settlements with the tribunal in an effort to solve the environmental problems. Typically, the tribunal, an agency of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecommuncaciones, looks for earth movement, the cutting of trees without permits, invasion of waterways and the consistency of plans and municipal permits.

Skeptical taxi drivers generally back new drunk driving fine
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi drivers are generally pleased with the stricter regulations against irresponsible drivers in the Ley de Tránsito, approved on first reading Monday by the Asamblea Legislativa. The new law would charge higher fines for transgressions like drunk driving, talking on a cell phone, driving without a seat belt or running a red traffic light.

Whether the new law would actually be enforceable, however, is another matter.

“I think raising the fines is a very good idea,”said Jorge Sanchez, 32, who has worked as a taxi driver in San José for eight years. “But by raising ticket fees, probably all it will end up doing is raise the amount of money you have to pay as a bribe.”

Many taxi drivers who were interviewed agreed that bribing traffic agents doesn't raise an eyebrow and is all too common when drivers violate a relatively minor traffic law.

“I'd say the new Ley de Tránsito might reduce bribing by about 70 percent,” said Rodrigo Araya, 60, who has been driving taxis for four years. “Right now if you get stopped by a traffic agent, all you have to do is give them a little sweet talk.”

Araya said he once paid off a traffic agent, after he ran a red light on an empty street.

“I tried explaining to him that I didn't do anything wrong, since I only ran the light once I was sure no one else was around,” said Araya. “I asked him if there was anything I could do, so the agent said, 'well, you know, if you want to give me a little something for a cup of coffee.'”

The traffic agent then handed him a ticket, said Araya, who folded a 500-colon note inside the ticket before handing it back to the traffic officer.

“Soon as he saw the 500 colons, he got angry,” said Araya. “He was all, 'What is this?' And I said, 'Well, with that you can buy yourself a coffee and maybe a sandwich too.'”

The new Ley de Tránsito would fine drivers 227,000 colons for attempting to bribe a tránsito officer. The fee is drastically higher than the current going-rate for bribes, said taxi drivers.

“I've been stopped by agents before, and I paid them crap,” said one taxi driver, 50, who declined to give his last
name. “You give them 5,000 colons (about $10), and that's it.”

Raising ticket fees was an excellent idea, agreed Jesús Valverde, 67, who has been driving taxis for 35 years, but more fees would automatically mean more corruption, he said.

“Unless they raise traffic agents' salaries, we're going to see the same amount of corruption or possibly more,” he said.

Cesar Quiros, 47, who has been driving taxis in San José for 25 years, said if the new Ley de Tránsito was not enforced, traffic officers are not necessarily to blame. “The problem is that higher-ranking officials don't want to enforce these laws, because they're the worst drivers of all,” he said. He cited the case of Ovidio Aguero as an example. Aguero, a member of the Asamblea Legislativa, came under scrutiny after killing two people in separate roadside accidents.

The Ley de Tránsito would also charge 227,000 colons for violations like drunk driving or driving a pirated taxi. While most taxi drivers who were interviewed agreed that drunk drivers, whom they blamed for most accidents, deserved such a high fine, others complained that the fine of 165,000 colons for talking on a cell phone and driving or driving without a seat belt was unfair.

“The fees haven't been studied very well,” said Valverde. “They're too high, especially for driving without a seat belt. But I agree drunk drivers should receive the highest fines, they're the ones causing trouble and accidents.”

The most common violation, agreed taxi drivers, was not running red lights or driving and talking on cell phones, but illegal parking.

“It's so frequent because you're forced to stop where your client wants to stop,” said Carlos Manuel Zuñiga, 60, a taxista from Heredia who has been driving for 28 years. “And sometimes, you know, you need to stop to get a newspaper or a hot drink.”

Bad-tempered taxi drivers, who will be fined 90,800 colons for abusing clients, is another common affliction, drivers said.

“I've gotten mad, but I stay quiet,” said Zuñiga. “I endure.”

For the most part, however, taxi drivers routinely praised the stricter fines as an excellent, albeit unenforceable idea.

“Too bad they didn't make it higher,” said Quiros. “They should make every fee one million colons.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 236

Danilovich suspends Millennium Challenge aid to Nicaragua
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States has suspended an American-run aid program in Nicaragua due to growing political violence in that country.

The head of the Millennium Challenge Corp., former Costa Rican ambassador John Danilovich, said Tuesday the recent election in Nicaragua shows the administration of President Daniel Ortega is no longer committed to holding peaceful and fair elections.

The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp. helps developing countries that show a commitment to good governance, economic freedom and the elimination of extreme poverty.
Nicaragua has been in political turmoil since early November, when its supreme electoral council said Ortega's ruling Sandinista party had won 105 of the 146 mayoral elections. Ortega's opponents say the elections were rigged.

The United Nations, along with the European Union and the United States, have expressed concern about the level of transparency in Nicaragua's voting system. The election process was marred by violence and controversy over the government's decision to ban two opposition parties from fielding candidates.

Ortega has defied Washington since his return to power in 2006 by allying himself with anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Communist Cuba.

Bush cuts trade benefits to Bolivia over failure to help drug-fighting efforts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The White House says President George Bush has suspended special trade benefits with Bolivia because of its failure to cooperate in drug-fighting efforts.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday that Bolivia was suspended as a beneficiary country under the Andean Trade Preference Act and the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. The spokeswoman said the suspension takes effect Dec. 15.

But, Perino said the benefits can be restored if Bolivia were
to improve its performance under the criteria of both programs and at the president's discretion.

The trade preferences lowered tariffs on Andean nations that help the United States fight drugs.

Three weeks ago, Bolivian President Evo Morales suspended the work of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in his country, accusing agents of spying and supporting anti-government protests.

He also gave them three months to leave the country. U.S. officials rejected the accusations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 236

A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

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.


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.


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.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Colombia and Europe
sign free-trade pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia has signed a free trade agreement with the four countries that make up the European Free Trade Association.

A statement from the association says the Colombian trade minister, Luis Guillermo Plata, and his partners from Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway signed the agreement Tuesday in Geneva.

Officials say the agreement covers Colombia's industrial and agricultural exports. European ministers said they are confident the new trade opportunities with Colombia will contribute to economic growth and development among the participating countries.

The European Free Trade Association was founded in 1960 and has 17 ongoing free trade treaties with countries ranging from Canada to Egypt.

The U.S. congress is considering a trade pact with Colombia now but the agreement has run into trouble due to some lawmakers' concerns over human rights there.

Unity plans dinner and dance
Sunday with Master Key

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Unity Costa Rica in Piedades, Santa Ana, will be celebrating Sunday with a U.S. Thanksgiving potluck, a  bilingual Service, a mini-concert by Master Key and a dance.

Master Key is about to release a new album for Christmas, and the group will be performing at the 11 a.m. service. The potluck follows at 12:15 p.m. with a dance afterwards.

The dinner is priced at 4,000 colons, about $7.40.

For more details, directions or to see what is still needed, prospective attendees can go to: then make reservations with Juan Enrique Toro at or 2-203-4411.

Power being cut today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz said it would cut power from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. between avenidas 6 and 10 from calle 12 to 20 and on the north side of Avenida 12 between calles 18 and 20 today.

A reader reports that power cuts also are planned during the daytime in Jacó.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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