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A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 3, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 240
Jo Stuart
About us
You can't count calories in Puriscal for the next week
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You probably will not need a note from your cardiologist, but a big appetite would be helpful. As will an appreciation of fried foods.

That’s because Puriscal starts its chicharrones festival today, and the event runs through next Friday.

The community about 25 kms. (15 miles) west of San José is better known for its production of faux Cuban cigars. The chicharrones festival has lot more than eating fried pork ribs.  There will be other examples of Costa Rican cuisine and drinks, as well as a full-scale horse parade Sunday and a night of guitars Tuesday.

Chicharrones in Costa Rica are chunks of pork ribs or leg cubed, boiled and fried. They are best served with fried yucca and other 

delicacies you never will find on the Weight Watchers menu.

The event is sponsored by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Unión Cantonal de Asociaciones de Puriscal. Other attractions include a tobacco tour, sugar cane mills, the Monumento Nacional Iglesia de Barbacoas, A butterfly reserve, and the Reserva Indígena Zapatón. Of course, the fair itself will feature sales of art work.

The climate is one in transition between the tropical lowlands and the Central Valley. The area has a small but growing community of expats.

The fair is 300 meters south of the Templo Antiguo in the center of town. Tourism officials point out that buses to the community leave San José from the Mercado la Coca Cola every 30 minutes.

Double Thanksgiving and doubly good times
This year I was doubly blessed at Thanksgiving.  I got to share two different Thanksgiving celebrations.  The first was with Bill White at the Colony (that is what we call the Julia and David White Artists’ Colony in Ciudad Colón.)  I shared Thanksgiving dinner with several of the permanent residents of the Colony and three writers, all women, who are currently there. 

Judy, our hostess, roasted the turkey breasts, and the rest of us brought the trimmings. We were about a dozen people with more food than we could finish in two days.  It was an amazingly compatible group — mostly people from the U.S., although one of the writers was born in South Africa.  The table talk was politics — both the U.S. and Costa Rican, and most of us would have been described (if you were labeling) as closer to being  bleeding-heart liberals as opposed to  cheap-labor conservatives. 

My second Thanksgiving was celebrated Saturday (giving me one day to fast in between).  This was a totally different group of people — the extended families of the descendants of U.S. missionaries who came to Costa Rica in the early part of the century and among other things, founded the Clinica Biblica. 

Just about everyone, except myself, was bi-lingual and bi-cultural — U.S. and Costa Rican — the best of each.  Three, perhaps four generations were represented, including, of course a number of teenagers and younger. 

There is a lovely etiquette custom in Costa Rica that has been passed on by these families.  Upon arrival, each person, including the youngest of children, makes the rounds of the people already gathered, greeting or introducing themselves with a kiss and/or a handshake.  The result is there is an immediate connection between adults and children, and I think it must give the children 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

a sense that they, too, are important, which, of course, they are. (Someone recently noted that babies are carried facing front, not against the shoulder, so that they can see where they are going, too.)  There is no reticence on the part of the children — even teenagers — in showing affection for their parents at such gatherings. 

Before we sat down to eat, we made a circle, and each of us took a minute to say what it was that we were thankful for during the past year.  Cathy was our hostess, and she prepared two large turkeys. The rest was potluck. It included all of the traditional side dishes familiar in the States.  Dinner conversation included politics and catching up with each other on the past year.  It was a warm family gathering and I was honored to be a part of it.

And since this is the season to be thankful, and I am feeling especially so, I want to thank my readers.  As much as I love to write, I love even more the fact that people read what I write and respond to it.  Some of you live in Costa Rica and I have met you, others write to me.  I even received a number of recommendations for cures and aids for my cold.  They ranged from liquid oxygen to tea from the bark of the Neem tree. 

I appreciated everyone’s concern.  And does anyone know if the Neem tree, a native of India, grows in Costa Rica?  A doctor in Mexico wrote to me about this and asked. The bark of this tree seems to have as many medicinal uses as the leaf of the marijuana plant without the controversy.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Two visitors to the Feria Artesanal check out bottles of lotion. They are Didi Hyde and Cindy Taft.

Pre-Christmas art  market
will run through Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bracelets, lotions, Boruca masks and hammocks are available at Parque España this weekend. The third annual Feria Artesanal opened Thursday morning and will run through Sunday.

Over 30 different vendors have set up under white tents. Products range from traditional crafts and decorations to more contemporary games and jewelry.

There is also a small stage set up in the park to facilitate several musical acts that are planned throughout the weekend. 

Parque España is located across from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. The fair, sponsored by the Municipalidad de San José, runs daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Human rights court here
upholds Berenson conviction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

American Lori Berenson appears to face 11 more years in a Peruvian jail. Thursday the Interamerican Court of Human Rights said it had upheld a Peruvian court’s 20-year sentence on terrorism charges against Berenson.

Berenson was arrested in 1995 and received a life sentence from a Peruvian military court. That ruling, however, was overturned in 2000 as flawed, and a civilian trial was ordered. In 2001 the civil court found her guilty and passed down a 20-year sentence.

The Interamerican Court, based in  San Pedro, is the highest-ranking American human rights court and was Berenson’s final appeal. The court’s decision to uphold the Peruvian ruling comes after months of international speculation. 

Several U.S. human rights groups have maintained that Berenson is innocent. The groups claim that Berenson received an unfair trial that was manipulated by the local media and the government.

Last month Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo said that regardless of the court’s findings, Peru planned to keep Berenson in jail.

Toledo was the one who announced the outcome of the case Thursday. The court was supposed to announce its ruling today, but Toledo hid been notified ahead of time as a courtesy. Once Toledo spoke in Peru, the court here placed the decision on its Web site.

Berenson was arrested in 1996 over suspicion that she was linked with a local terrorist group, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The military court’s sentence convicted Berenson of treason as the leader of the movement. The 2001 ruling convicted her of a lesser charge, terrorist collaboration. 

Our readers write

Prepaid chips available
all over, reader says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Answer to Scott Bidstrup’s letter

I travel a lot. And I like to carry my cellular phone with me. When I was in Thailand, I could buy a SIM for my GSM cellular, pre-paid. I just had to identify myself in the shop where they made a copy of the passport. In three minutes I had a Thai phone number. The same in Brasil. Or in all European countries. Actually in more then 100 countries worldwide. The easiest thing to do. 

Not in Costa Rica. I was several times in the ICE office. No sir, we can not give you a number when you bring your cellular phone from outside. No sir, we do not have SIM prepagado. No sir, we have no roaming, you can not use your phone in our country. "No hay" is the most used sentence in Costa Rica concerning modern communication. Including Internet access.  Do you really think it is good so?

Hans Ueli Kühni
We are a bunch 
of left-wing whackos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Oh that’s a real nice picture this morning!!  More anti-gun b/s. England of all people have already learned the lesson of giving up their guns, and you left-wing bunch of whackos that run this liberal left wing rag agree with everything I disagree with. All I can say is GOD bless OUR Second Amendment rights, the NRA and GEORGE BUSH 

Marvin Powell 
ex- Costa Rican now 
from a real country, Panama 
EDITOR’S NOTE; The writer refers to a photo of British Ambassador Georgina Butler helping to saw up guns during a ceremony marking the abolition of the Costa Rican army.
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French cooking in the clouds sans pretentiousness
Colbert Restaurant-Café (and bakery) is in Vara Blanca, Heredia, 400 meters east of the crossroad. Telephone 482-2776 

Rating; three stars
Price: $$

Jean Batiste Colbert (1619-1683) was minister of finance and commerce during the reign of Louis XIV. He was also the father of France’s ship and canal building industries. Bordeaux burgeoned and La Rochelle and its shipyards essentially came to life with the maritime genesis. To this day, many regional culinary treats in French cookbooks bear the name Colbert — not only seafood and fish dishes, but also pumpkin and asparagus soup and escargot.

Joel Suirer was born in a town near La Rochelle 46 years ago. His mother claims that he began to help her cook soon after he learned to walk into the kitchen. An old hand, he entered cooking college in Toures at 15. He has been cooking ever since. 

Two and a half years ago, he built his own restaurant. It sits on a barren windy hill, up Poas Mountain, 25 kilometers from Alajuela. Just 10 kilometers short of the volcano, take the right turnoff to La Paz Waterfalls and Vara Blanca. Six kilometers straight down the road, 400 meters past the La Paz marker (do not turn), Colbert looms naked except for beds of impatiens, behind a sign that emphatically declares ABIERTO in red. The other side of the sign, CERRADO, never faces the road except in the middle of the night. Suirer cooks three meals a day, seven days a week. 

Up the long flight of concrete stairs, you enter a large, rustic dining room with rough hewn beams, a central brick fireplace, many humble tables and few diners. The tablecloths are burgundy with white napkins and place covers, watched over by new wildflowers.

Fresh baked crusty loaves and a cheese display near the door add delicious aromas to the wood fire that burns when the clouds descend from the mountaintop, which must be often, since the trees are covered with bromeliads and other epiphytes. The room is glass enclosed on all but the kitchen side. Hummingbirds feed in sun or gloom. Maps of Costa Rica and France, a three fork La Nación review from two years ago and few prints hang from the walls. Brandies, aperitifs and digestifs sit across the room from a display of wines from Bordeaux to the Rhone Valley. 

Tabletop signs proclaim the daily specials, smoked salmon appetizer, a cheese board, roasted pairs of quail, rabbit in a mustard-tomato sauce and pejibaye soup. Complimentary tastes of pork pate, Joel’s mother’s recipe, topped with a small slice of homemade cornichon, came to the table with warm crusty bread and sweet butter. Our group of three orders them all plus a baked-to-order puff pastry vol au vent topped with mushrooms and hearts of palm in a smooth savory cream sauce for our one vegetarian.

The pejibaye soup was rich, but not too rich from excess cream reduction which may render this puree inedible 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


in other venues. No complaints on the other dishes. The  rabbit was tender and sauce classic. Crisp cooked chayote cubes and boiled small potatoes were perfectly uniform in size shape and doneness, the mark of a very caring and skillful kitchen. Salads were crisp, simple and well dressed with house creamy vinagrette dressing. Crepe suzettes and profiteroles disappeared without a trace. On another occasion, our experiences with chicken crepes and pork slices in a Valencia orange sauce were as good. 

On a third visit, I arrived for breakfast. The morning spread was less sophisticated but decent. The warm bread and rich coffee were just rewards. Afterwards, I blew my cover for the chance to ask the chef some questions and to see the kitchen, which was immaculate. After 25 years in Costa Rica with a Tica wife, he is a relaxed charmer with none of the Gallic pretentiousness I have seen in other French kitchens. Also missing are the kitchen staff, except for a single prep person, tuxedoed waiters, patronizing greeter and haute prices. What an unusual, refreshing throwback experience. 

In the age of celebrity French chefs on book tours, talk radio and television, trying to run multiple restaurants from afar, always seeking more stars from reviewers, we find Chef Suirer who bakes bread, makes his own fruit preserves, cooks all the meals and often helps greet and serve, with old fashion grace and humility as if we were guests in his home. 

There is no star system to do him justice. The notable well staffed kitchens on Paseo Colón and Los Yoses can out-fancy him with pomp, crystal, fine china, starched uniforms, wall hangings, costlier ingredients and florist arrangements. I doubt that any of them could match his work ethic and dedication to his restaurant and its patrons or his modest prices. He does the name "Colbert" proud.

When next I take visitors to Poas or La Paz, I shall bring them to Colbert. 

Prices: Hot and cold appetizers, soups and fresh plates of pasta are all less than 1,850 colons (about $4). Main courses: chicken and pork less than 2,000 colons, fish less than 4,000 and  steak and shrimp dishes about 4,400. Desserts are 1,100 to 1,350 colons.

Tourism official hopes talks will end jams at airports
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of tourism, Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, said he hopes that the negotiations under way with Alterra Partners arrive at a happy conclusion and end the jams at the nation’s two major airports. 

"The integral solution to this problem that exists regarding our airport largely depends on the fact that we can reach an amicable conclusion," said Castro. 

Castro said that thanks to airlines expanding their operations to Costa Rica and a successful international marketing program, Costa Rica has become one of the most important tourist destinations in the world. 

Last year tourist arrivals grew by 11.3 percent. This year the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo predicts that there will be a growth of 18 percent. As a consequence, Castro said that this further emphasizes the importance of an amicable resolution with Alterra, which operates Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela. 

Castro said that he organized an institutional committee made up of departments such as the Ministry of Obras Publicas y Transportes. Since August this committee has been attempting to resolve the problems regarding long waiting times that exist as much in Juan Santamaria Airport as Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia. 

Castro said that the committee has taken important steps to correct the problems.  In Juan Santamaria Airport, the immigration department has acquired a further 11 employees. 

Castro said that he feels that the airport is now better equipped to cope with the influx of tourists this high season.

"In the next few days we will be arranging another meeting with the ministries that make up this committee with the aim of going over the finer details with respect of the customs and excise department,"  said Castro, adding that "the government perfectly understands the seriousness of the situation.  The Ministerio de Hacienda has approved over 50 additional vacancies for immigration, customs and excise.  Those departments can no longer continue with the same amount of people they had 15 years ago when the amount of tourists was much less."

The minister of Turismo said that his aim is that the airport has a maximum waiting time of 45 minutes. In the case of the Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia, Castro said that thanks to the support of a private company a second building was constructed at the cost of $700,000. 

This enabled the departure and arrival sections to be separated in the airport. 

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Vote in Peru triggers start of war against smoking
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international treaty to reduce tobacco use will take effect Feb. 28 in 40 countries.  The treaty is aimed at curbing the harmful effects of cigarettes around the world.

More than 160 countries adopted the World Health Organization Convention on Tobacco, but before it could take effect, the legislatures of 40 countries had to approve it.  This week Peru's legislature approved the convention, triggering the international tobacco ban.

The 40 signatories of the convention are bound to try to reduce smoking through a variety of measures, including bans on cigarette advertising aimed at teenagers, increasing taxes on the sale of cigarettes, stronger labels on cigarette packages and enacting laws forbidding smoking in public places. 

World health spokesperson Marta Seoana says such measures are needed because voluntary measures by 

tobacco companies to curb smoking, especially among teenagers, are suspect.

"The tobacco industry needs to continue selling cigarettes," she said.  "Because they are in the business, that is the only way they are going to survive.  And they are expanding in many countries, especially in the developing world.  So I think governments need to take to lead and this is what they are doing with the convention, doing it with their own national programs."

Health officials hope enactment of the anti-tobacco convention will encourage other countries that have not signed on to do so.  The United States is among nations that have not ratified the treaty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the U.S. is the world's third-biggest exporter of tobacco.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 1.3 billion smokers around the world.  International health officials say half of all smokers will die prematurely because of tobacco use.

Some improvement seen in plight of Latin newspeople
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

What is it like to be a journalist in Latin America? You should, among other things, be prepared for harassment by judges and physical attacks. That was the consensus of a panel on freedom of the press in Latin America and the Caribbean that was held Thursday in Washington, D.C. 

If they do their jobs properly, journalists in Latin America frequently find themselves the target of criminals and corrupt officials. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reports that eight journalists were killed in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past 11 months. Journalists were murdered for doing their jobs in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. But there was a glimmer of good news.

The deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon, says this was the first time in a decade that no journalists were killed in Colombia, where a conflict between the government and Marxist rebels has gone on for 40 years. But according to Simon, Colombian journalists have paid a price for their safety. He says they have reduced their vulnerability by censoring themselves.

"They are simply afraid. They are not reporting on rural violence," he said. "They are not reporting on human rights issues simply because the risk is too high. So the fact that no journalists were killed in Columbia this year, for the first time in at least a decade, is very good news, but the reasons for it are troubling."

Simon and other members of the panel criticized laws in Venezuela and Brazil that they say will severely restrict journalists. In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Da Silva is urging the legislature to enact a new press law that he says will guide, discipline and police the field of journalism. Critics counter the law will severely restrict journalistic freedom.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez is expected to sign the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. Domestic critics and international groups such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders say the law threatens freedom of the press. 

But Ilenia Medina, Venezuela's alternate representative 

to the Organization of American States, defends the law. 

She says the new law is needed to ensure access to the airwaves and protect citizens' rights to information. She notes that Venezuela's law does not criminalize media misconduct, but merely applies administrative sanctions. She is also critical of countries, such as the United States, that allow the criminal prosecution of reporters who refuse to reveal their sources.

Currently, U.S. federal court judges have threatened two reporters with as much as 18 months each in jail for refusing a court order to testify about their contact with confidential sources who revealed the name of an undercover operative at the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Simon, with the Committee to Protect Journalists, says the U.S. law has been cited by repressive governments in Latin America and elsewhere to defend their treatment of journalists.

"It makes it easier for governments around the world, repressive governments, to justify their own repressive policies, which in many cases result in the incarceration of journalists," he said. 

But despite the problems facing the press Eduardo Bertoni, the Organization of American States' special rapporteur, says there is cause for optimism in some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

"One of the issues that is really inspiring is that there are many countries that are passing access to information laws," he said. "That began in 2002 with Mexico, then Peru, then Panama, and during this year Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. And there are a lot of countries that are debating access to public information laws, and I think this is the good news that comes from the continent."

Earlier this week Argentina became the latest country in the region to take up the issue of access to information, when its Senate began to study a bill that was passed by the lower house in May 2003. 

The panel was sponsored by the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, an organization devoted to Western Hemisphere affairs. 

Judge strips Pinochet of  immunity in murder of a general and his wife
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — A court has stripped former dictator Augusto Pinochet of immunity in a criminal case that involved the 1974 killing of a Chilean general.

The Santiago appeals court decision Thursday could pave the way for Pinochet to be tried in the deaths of Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife, killed by a car bomb.

Chile's Supreme Court has upheld two other immunity rulings in two previous cases against Gen. Pinochet.  The cases include "Operation Condor," a joint effort by Latin American dictators in the 1970s to eliminate the opposition. 

An estimated 3,000 people died or disappeared during Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990, mostly for political reasons.

Jo Stuart
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