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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 235          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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If bueyes are here, it's the Christmas season
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The arrival of statutes of saints in carts pulled by oxen Sunday marked the official start of the Christmas season in Costa Rica.

For the oxen drivers, the boyeros, the day was doubly sweet because a U.N. agency has declared the tradition to be an oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

The weather cooperated with sun and high, white clouds.

The ox cart owners, their families and their animals had spent the night at Parque la Sabana along with traditional music, food and dancing.

Ox carts and the giant beasts that pull them are pretty much of a hobby in Costa Rica now, although a couple of participants joked that the nation's roads are reaching a state where these carretas will be the preferred mode of travel.

Each year the procession of oxen, carts and their drivers carry statutes of various saints. The lead cart Sunday, guided by Placido Segura Hernández and his daughter Priscella of Heredia, carried a statute of San José or Saint Joseph, the patron of the city. San Miguel, the patron of Escazú, was there, too, although archangels are not exactly saints. San Isidro was there. He is the patron of farmers throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

A new addition was a model of the church in San Antonio de Escazú where oxcart drivers gather for another festival. It, too, was carried on a carreta.

It was the U.S. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that raised the ox cart tradition to the level of a matter of human heritage. Also included were Japan’s Kabuki theater, the Vimbuza Healing Dance of Malawi, and more than 40 other popular and traditional oral forms of expression, music and dance, rituals and mythologies, knowledge and practices concerning the universe, know-how linked to traditional crafts, as well as cultural spaces, said the U.N. agency.

The agency proclaimed some 47 other heritage masterpieces since 2001. Often vulnerable, this heritage, a repository of cultural diversity, is essential to the identity of communities and peoples, the agency said.

The ox cart with the large wooden wheels has been a traditional method of transportation since colonial days. The golden age of the carts was when they were used to move coffee beans from the interior to the port in Puentarenas. The railroad, which was operational in the 1870s pretty much took over the transportation, but oxen still are used for hauling and ploughing.

The oxen, neutered to control their temperament, are rigorously trained, and some young matched pairs without carts were in the procession Sunday. Some pairs are six-feet at the shoulders.

Although ox carts have been painted since 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Priscella Segura brings in San José

Melane González of San Isidro de Heredia is a passenger in a brightly decorated carreta.
colonial times, the delicate artwork that sets the Costa Rican carreta apart from others, originated in Escazú in the first third of the  20th century. An Italian immigrant came up with the idea of adorning the carts with intricate colorings in the style that was typical of the Sicilian carts of his home. Although some geometric designs could be seen on earlier carts, historians generally place the flowering of the more ornate vehicles in the 1930s. Best known are the highly decorated wheels.

The ox cart even has entered the supernatural realm. The carreta sin bueyes is said to be heard rolling down the street at night carrying its damned ox cart driver. The story is that the driver cursed a priest and tried to drive his oxen and cart into a church. The oxen or bueyes would not enter holy ground and, thus, were spared damnation. Not so for the driver who rolls through the night in a vehicle that could only be propelled by the Devil.

The entrada de los santos or ox cart procession is a municipal event here and Costa Rica where there is no line between church and state, and the Roman Catholic faith is the official religion.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 235

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U.N. animal statement
object of meeting here

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Delegates from four continents have concluded a meeting in Costa Rica where they have agreed to present a groundbreaking universal declaration on animal welfare to a high level ministerial for adoption in 2006. The ultimate aim is for the declaration to be accepted at the United Nations. The Costa Rican government hosted this inaugural steering committee meeting in cooperation with international animal welfare organizations including the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society International and Compassion in World Farming.
The objective of the initiative for a universal declaration on animal welfare is to achieve both global recognition of animals as sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain and suffering, and animal welfare as an important aspect of the social development of nations worldwide, a statement after the meeting said.
Maj. Gen. Peter Davies, director general of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said: "We are delighted that governments have recognized the importance of promoting animal welfare and have committed themselves to the success of this declaration. We urge governments worldwide to support this initiative and help make cruelty to animals a thing of the past." 
Discussion by representatives from Costa Rica, Kenya, India, the Republic of the Philippines and the Czech Republic, acting as the Delegation Steering Committee, followed on from the Manila Conference on Animal Welfare held in 2003 where 22 delegations agreed on the fundamental principles for a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. Dr. Gerardo Vicente of the Ministerio de Salud represented Costa Rica on the committee. 

Murder at El Pueblo
leads to four arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police arrested three Colombians and a Panamanian Sunday morning in connection with the murder of another Colombian near El Pueblo, the popular night spot north of San José, officers said.

The four suspects were arrested at Avenida 7 and Calle 18 as they rode in a Toyota Yaris, officers said.  A 36-year-old Colombian identified by the last name Cossio was driving, police said.  They also arrested a father and son identified by the last names Reintería, Colombians aged 48 and 26, as well as a Panamanian identified by the last name Campos who had been shot in the hip, the officers said. 

In the car, police said they also found a 9-mm pistol. 

Police said they still don't know the circumstances surrounding the murder of the victim identified as Pedro Abelardo López Seas, also a Colombian.  Nor do the officers know what – if any – relation he had with the four suspects, they said.      

Cell phone in prison
linked to delivery scam

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the fraud section of the Judicial Investigating Organization raided a home in Barrio Torremolinos as well as a section of the the penitentiary La Reforma to locate the individuals responsible for a flim-flam scheme, the agents said.

The investigations started as a result of a complaint filed with the organization stating that someone with a foreign accent would call businesses asking for items to be delivered.  When the delivery truck came to the address given, a man would show up saying he was not the person who had ordered the merchandise, but was family.  He would invite the delivery people to leave whatever items had been ordered and then go to a nearby address to get the money due.  When the delivery truck driver showed up at the address, there was no one there, when he returned to where he had left the items, no one was there either, agents said. 

During the course of the investigation, agents were able to determine that the phone calls had come from a cellular phone in La Reforma, they said.  The agents are still trying to determine which individual was using the phone, they said.     

Plan for oil refinery
on agenda in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco has announced his intention to attend another summit, this one in Cancún, México, which will continue the discussions about energy initiated at the Summit of the Americas earlier this month.  That summit took place in Mar del Plata, Argentina. 

Pacheco and other leaders hope to approve several projects that will be prepared by the Comisión Ministerial.  That commission was established at the Mar del Plata meeting to develop four projects which the members hope will assure energy at competitive prices in the region. 

One of the projects leaders are discussing is the installation of an oil refinery somewhere in Central America.  Costa Rica is one of the countries that could receive the refinery, Pacheco said.   

At the meeting, planned for Dec. 12 and 13, Pacheco will meet with the heads of state from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panamá, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and México. 

Accompanying Pacheco to the meeting will be the minister of Ambiente y Energía, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, as well as Litleton Bolton, president of the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, Marco Vinicio Vargas, vice minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto and first lady Leila Rodríguez. 

They plan to return to Costa Rica the day after the meeting. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 235

You can have fun when you play with the language
¿Que me iice?

_ ¡Ydiay, mae! ¿Que me iice?
_ Nada estoy pa’l tigre.
_ ¿Cómo así?
_ Naa es que ya no breteo alla
_ ¡Ydiay! ¿Porque?
_ Es que se me “Destapo el Tamal”
_ ¡Ydiay! Juemialma
_ Si mae, que furris, casi me meten al bote.
_ ¡Que gacho!
_ Si, Bueno mae. Alli nos vidrios

_ Hola, como estas? ¿Que me cuentas de nuevo?
_ Nada, solo que estoy muy mal
_ ¿De verdad? ¿Pero Porque?
_ Es que ya no trabajo en el mismo lugar
_ ¿Porque¿
_ Es que se dieron cuenta de que me dejaba algo del
_ Que barbaridad
_ Si fijate, que me fue tan mal, Que casi me meten a
      la carcel
_ ¡Que feo!
_ Si, pero por lo menos estoy en libertad, por ahi nos vemos.

_  Hi! How are you? What’s new?
_  Not much except I’m in pretty bad shape.
_  Really? Why?
_  It’s because I no longer work at my old job.
_ Why?
_ Well, they finally found out about my skimming
       part of the profits.
_ That sounds bad!
_ Really. I was lucky I didn’t go to jail.
_ How terrible!
_ Yes, but at least I still have my freedom… See you

Here are two ways of saying the same thing in Spanish, along with an English translation. The second version is in standard Spanish, as I think it’s important for everyone to learn the “proper” way of speaking before diving headlong into a local dialect.

The first version of our little dialogue is pure Costa Rican dialect, and is made up of many pachucadas, which we discussed in previous columns. But pachucadas are a little tricky because, like all colloquialisms in all languages, they keep changing, as does any momentary fad.  Each time I go to Costa Rica, I learn new ways of saying old things, and, of course, many new colloquial expressions.

My family likes to employ an additional twist to colloquial speech by speaking backward, and using
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

pachuco at the same time. Thus, if chavalo, meaning “guy,” we would say valocha, which is not altogether the reverse of chavalo, but you get the idea. This little linguistic trick is called alreves or alveres.
So, to say “car” or carro in Spanish we might say roca, which actually means “rock.” But to complicate the game even further, for “rock” we might say carro! To make matter worse, pachucada has it that a very older person as a rroca or rroco. Notice, however, the double “r,” which would be rolled to emphasize the difference between a rock and an elderly man or woman. What fun, no!?

A son might refer to his mom mi roquita, my little old lady, which is meant affectionately, and is taken as such. In Costa Rica, the use of the diminutive ending is nearly always indicative of affection, a favorite thing – in short – a good thing.

As kids, as soon as school was out we would all rush to my grandfather’s bakery to get fresh bread and coffee, My grandfather often made a big submarine sandwich from one of his baguettes and cut it into pieces for us all to share. I liked the ends, and always got one, no questions asked. My brothers and my cousins took turn about for the other end.

But one time my brother Mario and my cousin Hernan got into a fight over this crusty delicacy. The insults flew back and forth. Mario bellowed loco at Hernan, meaning simply, “crazy.” But when Hernan, seemingly forgetting that grandpa was standing nearby, shouted tu abuelo, which is as much as to say “it’s your grandfather who’s crazy,” that was the end of the argument. Grandfather took the bread away and boxed both their ears.

It would seem that, in Costa Rica at least, insulting one’s elders in their very presence isn’t the wisest course of action.

Man on a mission will prompt discussions of AIDS
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An expert on AIDS awareness and education is coming to Costa Rica and Panamá Wednesday to talk with youth in those nations about the epidemic. 

John Chittick, or Dr. John as he goes by on the street, brings an approach to the old cause which is as practical as it is simple.  He walks the world telling youth about AIDS.  He simply talks to the country's teenagers wherever he finds them, be it schools, parks or on the street.  He has a doctorate in education and human psychology and knows how to communicate with young people, he said. 

“I call it the AIDS attack,” Chittick said.  “The object is to get them interested in five or 10 minutes.  If they blow me off, I see it as a challenge.”  As a short, chubby white guy from the United States who is partial to loud Hawaiian shirts, Chittick sticks out wherever he goes.  And that, he said, is part of the reason he is effective. 

Chittick said his talent lies in his ability to talk with young people.  He knows that most of them have heard of AIDS and know how it can be prevented, but he hopes that his street approach will lead him to people that aren't aware of the disease and more importantly, will be empowered by their conversation with him to spread the awareness to friends. 

The language barrier has never been too much of a problem, he said.  He speaks broken Spanish but has been to countries where he spoke nothing of the local language. 
“I can almost always find someone who speaks enough English,” he said.  If he finds and makes an acquaintance, he tries to talk the person into taking him to their school or their neighborhood.  He talks with principals and community leaders and will do whatever he can to spread AIDS awareness, he said in a telephone interview. 

Though he has avoided robberies and other problems with the citizens of the countries he's been to, his biggest problems have come from authorities.  He was arrested in Cuba, he reported.

“I don't believe in censorship.  I don't think you should deny people information based on cultual or religious concerns.  This is a mission and it has to be done.  It's a very proactive mission.  I don't back down for religious or cultural reasons.  I'm respectful of the country but if someone askes me a question I always answer it,” he said.  

“My message is that preventative education in AIDS works everywhere.  You don't need money.  Don't complain about the fact that you don't have a lot of money to do AIDS prevention because you can empower young people to carry the message to someone else,” he said.  “If you love a friend, you must tell your friend about AIDS.”    

Chittick is planning to be in the country for 11 days.  At some point in his journey, he plans to fly to Panama City for a couple of days. 

Costa Rica and Panamá are the 71st and 72nd countries he has visited during his nearly seven years of AIDS awareness walks, he said. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 26, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 235

Compound in hops emerges as a big cancer fighter
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CORVALLIS, Ore. — A compound found only in hops and the main product they are used in — beer — has rapidly gained interest as a micronutrient that might help prevent many types of cancer.

Researchers at Oregon State University first discovered the cancer-related properties of this flavonoid compound called xanthohumol about 10 years ago. A recent publication by an Oregon researcher in the journal Phytochemistry outlines the range of findings made since then. And many other scientists in programs around the world are also beginning to look at the value of these hops flavonoids for everything from preventing prostate or colon cancer to hormone replacement therapy for women.

"Xanthohumol is one of the more significant compounds for cancer chemoprevention that we have studied," said Fred Stevens, a researcher with the university's Linus Pauling Institute and an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy. "The published literature and research on its properties are just exploding at this point, and there's a great deal of interest."

Quite a bit is now known about the biological mechanism of action of this compound and the ways it may help prevent cancer or have other metabolic value. But even before most of those studies have been completed, efforts are under way to isolate and market it as a food supplement. A "health beer" with enhanced levels of the compound is already being developed.

"We can't say that drinking beer will help prevent cancer," Stevens said. "Most beer has low levels of this compound, and its absorption in the body is also limited. But if ways can be developed to significantly increase the levels of xanthohumol or use it as a nutritional supplement — that might be different. It clearly has some interesting cancer chemopreventive properties, and the only way people are getting any of it right now is through beer consumption."

Xanthohumol was actually first discovered in 1913, isolated as a yellow substance found in hops. Researchers started studying its molecular structure in the 1950s, but for decades the only people who showed any real interest in it were brewers, who were trying to learn more about how hops help impart flavor to beer.

In the 1990s, researchers at OSU, including Stevens and toxicologist Don Buhler, began to look at the compound from another perspective — its anti-cancer properties. It showed toxicity to human breast, colon and ovarian cancer cells, and most recently has shown some activity against prostate cancer.

Xanthohumol appears to have several mechanisms of action that relate to its cancer preventive properties,

A.M. Costa Rica file photo      
Someone took their medicine
scientists say. It, and other related flavonoid compounds found in hops, inhibit a family of enzymes, commonly called cytochromes P450 that can activate the cancer process. It also induces activity in a process that helps the body detoxify carcinogens. And it inhibits tumor growth at an early stage.

In recent years, it has also been shown that some prenylflavonoids found in hops are potent phytoestrogens, and could ultimately have value in prevention or treatment of post-menopausal "hot flashes" and osteoporosis — but no proper clinical trials have been done to study this. Information about these compounds appears to be spreading. Hop-containing herbal preparations are already being marketed for breast enlargement in women, the Oregon research report said, without waiting for tests to verify their safety or efficacy. And a supposed "health" beer is being developed in Germany with higher levels of xanthohumol.

It's possible, scientists say, that hops might be produced or genetically engineered to have higher levels of xanthohumol, specifically to take advantage of its anti-cancer properties. Some beers already have higher levels of these compounds than others. The lager and pilsner beers commonly sold in domestic U.S. brews have fairly low levels of these compounds, but some porter, stout and ale brews have much higher levels.

Ideally, researchers say, cancer chemoprevention is targeted at the early stages of cancer development and prevented by long-term exposure to non-toxic nutrients, food supplements or drugs that prevent the formation of cancers. With its broad spectrum activity, presence in food products, and ability to inhibit cancer at low concentrations, xanthohumol might be a good candidate for that list, experts say.

Xanthohumol also appears to have a role as a fairly powerful antioxidant — even more than vitamin E. And it has shown the ability to reduce the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol.

Development bank begins program to target Latin money laundering
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank is providing a $350,000 grant for a new project aimed at fighting money laundering in Latin America.

In a statement, the bank said it is joining with the Federation of Latin American Banks on the project, which will contribute to the stability, integrity and security of the region's financial systems by fostering a close coordination between government agencies and financial institutions.

The development bank says money laundering, defined as the processing of criminal proceeds to disguise their illegal origin, is having a corrosive effect on the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean.  Latin America, said the bank, is regarded as perhaps the most active emerging region with money laundering through both bank and non-bank channels.  Financial systems need to be strengthened through multilateral cooperation to prevent money laundering, the bank said.
The Federation of Latin American Banks -- based in Bogota, Colombia -- is a trade association representing Latin America's banking sector, and works with a number of national and international bodies, including two offices of the U.S. Department of Treasury: the Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, on fighting money laundering.

The new project to combat money laundering was presented at the federation's annual meeting this month in Miami.

The Federation of Latin American Banks plans to hold a series of workshops in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, bringing together officials from banking regulation agencies, financial intelligence units and prosecutors' offices. 

The bank said the workshops will help pinpoint weaknesses and problems in the region's anti-money-laundering systems.

Venezuela's Chávez to sign deal today for military planes and boats
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  President Hugo Chávez says his government will press ahead with the purchase of Spanish military aircraft and naval vessels despite U.S. objections.

President Chavez said in a televised speech that Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono will be in Venezuela today to sign the contracts for the 10 military transport planes and eight patrol boats.

The U.S. ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, said Washington was still considering whether to block the transaction because the planes carried U.S.  
technology.  But Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos says the sale is strictly a business deal and should not harm Spain's relations with the United States.

Chávez has said Venezuela would use the aircraft and vessels to patrol land and sea borders to prevent drug trafficking.

Relations between Washington and Caracas have been tense in recent months, in part due to U.S. criticism of Venezuela's purchase of 100,000 Russian-made Kalashnikov rifles.  The United States has expressed concern the rifles might fall into the hands of leftist Colombian rebels.

Jo Stuart
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