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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 29, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 236
Jo Stuart
About us
Holy Cow

Or to be more precise, holy oxen.

The scene was the blessing of the animals Sunday during the entry of the saints into San José, the official kickoff to the Christmas season.

Story, more photos


A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici

Government threatens to kick out airport firm
By Clair-Marie Robertson
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Costa Rica will take control of the Juan Santamaría International Airport Jan. 15 if negotiations with the airport operator fail.

That was the threat issued Friday by Randall Quiros, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes.

The government and the airport operator, Alterra Partners Costa Rica, are in a long-running dispute over who should pay what.

"We are looking to make an offer to Alterra," said Quiros. "We hope for the good of this country and all Costa Ricans that we can resolve our differences." He was speaking at a press conference called specifically to outline the government’s case.

The issue is important because the airport is the major entry for tourists and business travel.

Quiros said that government representatives and those from Alterra will meet Wednesday to put together the agenda of negotiations between the two parties. 

Alterra claims the government owes it $79 million in lost income and damages. The government stopped renovations and modernization at the airport when officials realized that the project costs were be much higher than expected. There also were technical problems with some questions raised whether the original agreement provided for spending the amount of money Alterra had planned.

Alterra lost a Sala IV constitutional court case Nov. 13. That voided its $79 million suit against the Consejo Tecnico de Aviación Civil. Meanwhile, the Contraloría General de la Republica, the nation’s financial watchdog, ordered a review of airport tariffs after the agency said it found inconsistencies. Tariffs are the fees airline companies pay to land aircraft.

The Association of International Airlines released a statement at mid-month outlining its main concerns with the Juan Santamaría International Airport. In the statement the association said that Alterra Partners, the airport’s operator, must improve the service that it is providing and continue with its contract.  The association wants the Costa Rican authorities to demand that Alterra complete the service contract that required them to finish renovation work.

Alterra took control of the airport in 2001 with a concession contract that was expected to last 20 years. The deal is a public-private one with the government receiving 50 percent of the income.

Alterra Partners was to invest $240 million during the 20 years. About $160 million of this was to be invested during the first three years of the agreement.

The business community repeatedly has expressed concerns that the Alterra case represents another example of the government trying to dodge its obligations under contracts with international companies.

Alterra Partners Costa Rica is part of the London, England-based, Alterra Partners Ltd.

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Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto photo
Mel Gibson helped by ministry staffer

Mel Gibson in shorts
wows foreign ministry

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The foreign ministry is crediting its promotion division for generating interest among top actors and directors.

The ministry said that a visit last Tuesday by U.S. actor and director Mel Gibson was one such success by its Dirección de Promoción.

Actress Cameron Díaz is supposed to visit in February, said the ministry.

The Ministrio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto is a center for diplomats, but Gibson did not wear diplomatic garb when he arrived with his son and technical team to meet with Roberto Tovar Faja, the minister.

Instead, Gibson wore white shorts, a pink shirt, what appeared to be a fishing vest and a baseball cap. The ministry diplomatically declined to mention this lapse of protocol.

There was little specific reported about the meeting except that Gibson is interested in developing some movie projects on the pacific coast.

Ministry employee Gina Guillén heads the promotion division.

Wednesday marks end
of Costa Rica’s army

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday Costa Rica will celebrate the 56th anniversary of the abolition of its army. The Centro de Amigos para la Paz will hold a special ceremony at the Museo Nacional at 11 a.m.

Several Costa Rican political figures will speak at the ceremony, including Dr. Pedro León, representative of the Centro de los Amigos para la Paz, Guido Sáenz, the minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, and President Abel Pacheco.

Costa Rica’s army was dissolved in 1948 under the leadership of José Figueres Ferrer. Figueres had seized power from the government of Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia earlier in the year. He introduced several social reforms during his first year in power. Disbanding the army was one of those reforms. The act had "great symbolic importance and closed off avenues for future militarization," according to "The History of Costa Rica," by Iván Molina and Steven Palmer. 

Many Costa Ricans are proud that their country is one of the few in the world to live without an army. Many Ticos feel that it sends a world message of peace. They also feel that it has played a central role in the country’s ability to advance without the violent civil conflicts that plague many other Central American countries. 

Big anti-drug sweep
nets 12 in Liberia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

Ten men and two women, including two teenagers, have been arrested as drug pushing suspects in Barrio Invu Sabanero in Liberia. The arrests were made Thursday afternoon following weeks of surveillance and undercover investigation by the Organization of Judicial Investigation, a spokesperson said. The men and women were arrested under suspicion of selling marihuana, cocaine and crack. Two of those detained are 15 and 16 years of age. 

Agents said that they believe that the same people arrested were also responsible for selling drugs in los Barrios Nazareth, Angeles, Curime, El Imas, San Roque and Corazon de Jésus. 

Upon searching the homes of two of those arrested officials discovered large quantities of crack and marihuana.

Pot plants in forest
lead to an arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

Investigations in and around the Bosque Nacional Diriá, located in El Arado de Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, have resulted in one arrest and the discovery of 2,377 marihuana plants. 

Officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested José Bernado Ruiz Castillo and destroyed 2,377 plants that were found in three plantings located on the property that is located within the national forest, they said. Some plants that were found were at a height of approximately 3 meters or more than nine feet.

Agents received several tips from members of the public who had seen the plants in the national park.  The marijuana was planted in a forested area hard to see except from the air.

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Anyone want to buy a slightly used carreta?

St. Joseph (San José) and the Christ Child are close to the head of the parade.

Want to buy the cart before the ox?
Here's your chance
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You say you are bored. You say you need a hobby. 

Well, big bovines might just be the pastime you need.

The critters were out in force Sunday as their owners marched them down Paseo Colón and Avenida 2. 

Nearby was Daniel Villalobos who had just the way to get an expat into this hobby that perpetuates one of the great traditions of Costa Rica.

For a mere 300,000 colons (about $660) Villalobos of Santa Rosa de Santo Domingo de Heredia is ready to sell you an ox cart. It’s an antique, he said, probably 80 years old. The box appeared in good shape, but the steel-rimmed wheels had plenty of mileage.

Few people today use their animals in daily agricultural work, although teams of oxen are great for hauling over rough or damp ground.  A good team can pull 125 percent of its weight, and some teams approach 6,000 pounds. The organization of boyeros is for continuing the Costa Rican tradition. Ox carts provided the transportation to get the coffee from the Central Valley to deep water ports in the 19th and early 20 century.

The distinctive rumble of their wheels has even worked its way into Costa Rican ghosts stories, as in the Carreta sin Buey where a cursed driver is carried along the roads at night by his ox cart propelled by the hand of 

the Devil. His oxen were good creatures and were spared by the curse.

The rumble was much in evidence Sunday, although all of the hundreds of carts seemed to have teams of oxen attached. 

During the parade, Cristobal Vega Vega was honored for his years of participation in the parade. An announcer said that Vega was 104 years old. He, along with members of his family, made the trek from Sabana to San José.

The event was the VIII Entrada de los Santos or entry of the saints, and included statues of saints, the Christ Child and even a representation of the Virgin de los Angeles, the gold-encrusted statue at the Cartago basilica.

Near the grandstand at Parque Central was Villalobos and his carreta, which carried a sign saying that he would sell or trade. For anyone who really needed a carreta quickly, he also would sell his pickup on which it was loaded.

He explained to a visitor that raising oxen was no big deal. All you need is a little land and a little hay. But others talk about daily exercise, the extensive training of young animals and adults that can eat a bale of hay a day and perhaps a couple of buckets of grain.

It would appear that the carreta is just the start.

Theater group is planning a Christmas medley of O. Henry stories
By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group’s opening production of "An O. Henry Christmas" is scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Lisa DeFuso directs the play that brings several of O. Henry’s short stories to life, including "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Last Leaf."  The show is family-oriented, telling the tale of eight homeless people who spend Christmas together on the street, said a release. 

The play will have six performances, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and Dec. 10, 11 and 12. 

The Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m., and the Sunday shows are at 2:30 p.m. 

Tickets are 2,500 colons ($5.50) and 1,000 colons ($2.20) for students. Information and reservations are available at the theatre by telephone, 355-1623 or online at

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There is a correct time to enjoy chocolate or expresso
Cuentas Claras, Chocolate Espeso

"Accounts clear, chocolate thick." This dicho is telling us that when we have all our accounts (or affairs) in order then we can take time to enjoy a nice cup of thick, hot chocolate, or, in my particular case, espresso coffee. 

Anyone who knows the first thing about business knows that it just makes good sense (cents) to keep the books up to date, plus when you’re in business with someone else, it’s the best way to maintain a good personal relationship among partners. But, if we take time off to enjoy that cup of hot chocolate before our work is done, that’s when we’re flirting with trouble. The next thing we know our partner has mortgaged the store, and we’re no longer drinking hot chocolate, we’re in hot water.

I like to recount stories from when I was growing up, not just because they are my stories, but because our experiences growing up are the ones that determine character, or the lack thereof. I was a fairly good student when I was in high school, and I had a good-sized circle of friends who always hung out together after school and on weekends. They liked to study with me because I was known for my willingness to help other students who were having trouble in their courses. There were a couple of fellows in this group from whom I learned a lot. One was from a poor family but was able to attend our private school because he’d won a scholarship. The other boy came from a very well-to-do Costa Rican family. Both of these fellows often needed help studying. 

During our senior year these two guys were both struggling with physics. Since science and math were my strongest subjects, some of my more mathematically challenged pals talked me into holding a physics study session at my house on Saturday afternoons. 

My poor friend declared he would be there, even if it meant he would have to take time off from his job, which of course was a sacrifice since money for his family was in short supply. My rich friend, on the other hand, simply couldn’t give up his weekend trips to the beach. When the school year drew to a close, my poor 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

friend passed his physics exam with colors flying, while, as you might expect, my rich friend failed. 

As exam time had drawn nearer, the rich fellow had approached me with an offer of money if I would help him cheat on the physics test. Of course I refused, finding the idea of cheating for pay fairly repulsive. My rich friend and I argued, and he said many not-so-nice things, among them that I was not his friend and never had been. Still, with two weeks to go before finals, I told him I’d help him study so he could pass on his own. But, since it appeared he could have his chocolate without working for it, why bother?

Ironically, both of these boys lives were cut short by freak accidents within months of that high-school physics exam: My poor friend was trapped by a cave-in working at his job laying pipe for the Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA), and my rich friend died in an automobile accident while driving a fancy sports car his father had given him as a graduation present, even though he’d failed to graduate. 

We might say that the poor boy may have died because he could never afford to take time off from work to enjoy his accomplishments. While the rich kid could be said to have simply drowned in a virtual sea of hot chocolate. 

Two arrests made in killing of prosecutor in Venezuelan bombing
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Police have arrested two brothers in connection with the killing of a top government prosecutor.

Officials said Friday that Rolando and Otoniel Guevara were arrested west of the capital city of Caracas. Their arrest comes the same week that police shot and killed two other suspects in the prosecutor's murder.

Prosecutor Danilo Anderson died when explosions 

ripped through his car as he drove through the Venezuelan capital. Officials have said the attack may have been politically-motivated.

Anderson had been overseeing a case against hundreds of opposition politicians, businessmen and former military officers involved in a 2002 coup that briefly ousted President Hugo Chavez.

Two former Caracas police chiefs who were being investigated by Anderson sought asylum Friday at El Salvador's embassy in Caracas.

Top police officials in México suspended after agents beaten and burned
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MÉXICO CITY, México — At least two senior police officers have been suspended for alleged negligence in connection with the mob killings this past week of two police agents. 

The agents were beaten and burned alive on the outskirts of México City Tuesday while they were taking pictures outside a school as part of an operation against 

drug dealing. A third agent was severely injured in the incident.  The crowd had reportedly confused the agents with child kidnappers.

Some policemen have told investigators that higher-ranking officers stood in the way of a timely rescue. 

Local media had been reporting on the mob violence near the school several hours before the killings. 

Jo Stuart
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