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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 243          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Nicaraguans have their day venerating Mary
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today a big day for Nicaraguans, including those in Costa Rica.

The day is the religious feast of La Purísima or, as it is known in English, the Immaculate Conception.

Somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 persons, mostly Nicaraguans, gathered at the Plaza de la Democracia Wednesday night for a Purísima eve party and the traditional distribution of fruit, candy and food.

In Nicaragua, the day is somewhat like the U.S. Halloween. Each home erects a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and visitors are treated with good things to eat. Nicaraguans here, being away from their homes, were treated Wednesday night by their embassy and the Museo Nacional.

The day had a little more significance this year as Nicaraguans find themselves living in Costa Rica while tensions build between their homeland and the government here. The right of passage on the Río San Juan is an issue that Costa Rica is carrying to the World Court.

In a small Cartago community a guard dog killed a burglar who happened to be 

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Kimberly Leiva Araya, a Tica whose father works at the Nicaraguan Embassy, helps with the distribution.

Nicaraguan. This, too, has strained official relations. And over the weekend, a Nicaraguan died in a bar fight following a discussion about the incident with the dog. But these concerns were not evident Wednesday night when the mascaradas and cimarronas of Aserrí helped entertain the crowd.

In Catholic theology, the Immaculate Conception celebrates Mary's conception free from original sin.
Dec. 8 is a Catholic Church holiday, but in Nicaragua the day has additional significance as a major celebration because Mary is  the leading religious figure.

Nicaraguans Guillermo López Mendoza of Managua, Marco Antonio Rivera Jiménez of Esteli and Miguel Ángel Castro Centeno of Matagalpa at left, wave traditional noisemakers, matracas, while another family, at right, celebrates, too.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 243

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Costa Rican native is
shooting victim in Miami

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services

A Costa Rica-born U.S. citizen became the major international news story Wednesday when a sky marshal shot and killed him at Miami's International Airport.

The man is 44-year-old Rigoberto Alpizar, formerly of Guanacaste. He may have been in the throes of a mental disorder because law officers say he claimed to have a bomb in a backpack he carried on the passageway to his airplane. No bomb was found.

The afternoon incident is the first shooting involving the marshals that were put on airplanes after Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

In what law enforcement officials described as an unfortunate event and an isolated incident, the shooting took place near Flight 924, a Boeing 757 heading from Miami to Orlando. Alpizar and his wife had just returned to the United States from South America where they had been involved in dental missionary work in Ecuador. They had been there since Thanksgiving.

James E. Bauer, special agent in charge of the Federal Air Marshals field office in Miami, said Alpizar threatened to blow up a bomb in his backpack.

"At some point, he uttered threatening words that included a sense to the effect that he had a bomb. There were federal air marshals on board the aircraft," said Bauer. "They came out of their cover, confronted him, and he remained non-complaint with their instructions. As he was attempting to evade them, his actions caused the FAMs to fire shots and, in fact, he is deceased." FAM means federal air marshal.

A passenger on the flight said Alpizar ran down the aisle of the airplane while his wife cried that he was mentally ill and had not taken his medication.

Federal authorities said they found no evidence of explosives. FBI agent Andy Apollony said investigators were considering whether the threat was terrorism-related.

"Anytime there's an individual that's on a plane or is attempting to board a plane and says he has a bomb, we're going to be interested in that from a terrorism nexus," he said.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, there were only a few dozen federal air marshals, who flew mostly on international routes. Thousands have since been hired to protect aircraft and their passengers.

After the shooting, agents unloaded the luggage on the aircraft and blew up two suitcases when trained bomb sniffing dogs showed an interest.

Alpizar moved to the United States in 1986. He worked at Home Depot, a construction supply store. He lived in Maitland, Fla.

The news story captured the attention of the major television news outlets, and congressmen, physicians and terrorism experts were among those interviewed on the topic.

It's confetti time

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tonight's the night the Christmas celebration picks up steam on the downtown pedestrian mall.  The traditional avenidazo is when Costa Ricans throw confetti at each other between 6 and 10 p.m.

In addition there will be music most nights up until Dec. 23.

City officials who promote the event for the benefit of downtown merchants are asking that revelers use a larger size confetti this year to avoid problems with respiration.

Our reader's opinion

Health chief understated
bird flu mortality

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding the story with the following statement: (Tuesday):

“The meeting was convened by Michael Leavitt, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. He told the assembly that a rapidly spreading global flu pandemic could infect more than 90 million Americans in four months, hospitalize 10 million, and kill nearly two million.”

The story that doesn’t seem to be getting out is that the new H5N1 avian flu has a mortality (death) rate in humans of just over 50 percent.  The 1918 virus had a mortality rate of just over 2 percent (and the estimate on those deaths, worldwide, ranged from 12 million to 60 million, no one really knows the correct number). Mr. Leavitt’s comment appears to be either disingenuous or badly misinformed. Neither serves the public.

If 90 million, out of a potential 300 million, get this influenza, the death toll could easily reach 45 million people — just in the US.

The worst case ‘doomsday scenario’ would be if a rapidly spreading, and easily transmitted, mutation develops and infects the large majority of the Earth’s population. Then, simple arithmetic will tell you what 50 percent of 6 billion people is.

Every country must be willing and able to cooperate with the United Nations to enable ‘quick strike’ teams to move rapidly into any area of any country that has an outbreak. This sort of ‘pinpoint’ quarantine will be our best, if not only, hope of containing this plague until a vaccine is developed and manufacturing resources ramped up to produce it in meaningful quantities.

John Vanvoer

Professional Directory
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 243

It's just not rice and beans without the coconut milk
By Annette Carter
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

It doesn’t have five stars, or even a sign out front for that matter, but Miss Maudie’s in Cahuita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has staked its claim as the hands down best rice and beans in Costa Rica.

Working from a small shack in Cahuita’s center, Maud Smikle Smikle, or Miss Maudie as the locals call her, and her daughter Iyoni McLeod McLeod, serve up a simple menu of rice and beans, chicken, fish and sometimes beef, cabbage salad, homemade soups, and fresh lemonade or ginger ale to both tourists and locals three or four days each week.  Seating is limited — three tables outside under a zinc roof — and there is no printed menu. 

Like most of Costa Rica’s older Afro-Caribbeans, Miss Maudie worked hard to make her way during a time when racism was rampant in Costa Rica and the south Caribbean region was all but inaccessible from the rest of the country.   As a girl, she worked all night shelling beans and corn, grating coconut, and breaking cacao for sale in the market in Puerto Limón.  Other days, she made the trek to Limón herself taking a car to Penshurst, crossing the river by boat and continuing the journey by train with 60 bags of yams, yam peas, yucca, oranges, tangerines, lemons, and grapefruit.  Her salary was 800 colons per month.  “That was good money back then,” she says. 

Later, as a single mother of 16, Miss Maudie sold oranges in the market in Limón and cooked, cleaned and washed for others while daughter Iyoni stayed home to care for the younger children.   
“I fight and fight and work hard to build my house in La Unión (in Cahuita)," she said. “It took three years of my hard work.”   Today Miss Maudie has 50 grandchildren and 40 great grandchildren.

Finally, Miss Maudie decided to go into business for herself. For 30 years, she made and sold her food in a local bar until five years ago when her son gave her the building that now houses the kitchen of her restaurant.  Although rice and beans is on virtually every restaurant menu in Costa Rican, Miss Maudie says that, most often, it is not the real thing.
“Tourists don’t know the difference between gallo pinto and rice and beans,” she said.  “Other restaurants in Costa Rica give them pinto and call it rice and beans. Gallo pinto is just rice and beans mixed together, but real rice and beans has coconut milk in it.”

To make coconut milk, Iyoni says, you must start with a fresh coconut.  “You chop it with a machete into pieces and then grate and grate it to get out the meat and then put it in water to get the milk out,” she said.

“Grating is hard work so a lot of people don’t do it.” 

Miss Maudie grates 25 coconuts at one time taking three to three and a half hours to make enough milk for four days of rice and beans at her restaurant.  All of the cooking for the restaurant is done at home and carried by taxi to the restaurant which has only enough space for a stove and sink. 

Sitting outside her restaurant figuring the price of a meal in her head and making change from the big apron which also serves as her purse, medicine cabinet, and wallet, she says Cahuita has changed a great deal since 1944 when she first came here from Pacola, a small town near Guapiles.

“There were only two restaurants when I came here and there were no hotels, and no big businesses. Now there are a lot of houses, cabinas, restaurants and tourists.  We know not all the tourists have money. Most of them work very hard to be able to come to Costa Rica.”

Maybe that’s why eating at Miss Maudie’s is not only a unique culinary experience but an economical one as well. 

How to find Miss Maudie’s:  Look for the small blue

A.M. Costa Rica/Annette Carter
Maud Smikle Smikle and the final product

shack in Cahuita Center between Restaurant Le Fey and the park, and in front of Restaurant Coral Reef.

Hours:  Thursday, Friday and Saturday (sometimes Wednesday if it’s busy).
Open: 11:30 or 12 until 8, 9 or 10 p.m. (if it’s busy!)
What it Costs:  A complete dinner of rice and beans, chicken, fish or beef, boiled yucca and cabbage salad: 1,500 colons (about $3). Soup: 900 colons. Fresca: 300 colons.

Menu:  Rice and Beans served with chicken or fish, and sometimes beefsteak in salsa, all topped with a wonderful Caribbean sauce flavored with coconut milk and served with boiled yucca and cabbage salad.
Two of her recipies:

Rice and Beans

What you need:  raw rice (not instant but the kind you have to wash), red beans, 2 coconuts, thyme, garlic, onion, sweet pepper, Panama pepper without seeds.

Cook red beans until soft.
Break the coconuts (if you don’t have a machete handy, use a hammer).
Grate coconut using a coconut grater or conventional kitchen grater or you can remove it from the husk and put it in the blender to grate it.  If you are really desperate, buy the canned stuff but don’t tell Miss Maudie!

Cover grated coconut in water and let it sit for a few hours until you can see the water turning white.

Squeeze the coconut in the water and then wash it two times and throw away all the trash (the coconut and any of the husk which remains).

Put coconut milk in with beans and cook for awhile.

Chop the garlic, onion, sweet pepper and Panama pepper removing the seeds.

Add chopped vegetables and thyme to taste to the beans and boil for awhile longer.

Wash the rice well, add to remaining ingredients and cook until it tastes done (Miss Maudie says don’t watch the time, just try it to see if it’s done!)

Fresh Ginger Ale

What you Need:  Fresh ginger root, fresh limes, sugar and water.

Beat whole ginger root to release its juice, cover in water to boil, strain and add fresh lime juice, sugar and more water to taste.  Locals say this is a good natural remedy for stomach ailments.

Even old student loans are not to be forgotten, U.S. Supreme Court rules
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bad news for expat deadbeats. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that student loan debts are not subject to a 10-year statute of limitations.

That means federal officials can snag part of a recipient's Social Secuirty payment to cover the default in an old student loan.

According to a summary of the decision provided by the Cornell University Legal Information Institute, in
 2002, the government began withholding a portion of the petitioner's Social Security payments to offset his debt on federally reinsured student loans that were more than 10 years overdue.  The petitioner was identified with the last name of Lockhart.

Lockhart sued the government, claiming that the deduction was barred by the 10-year statute of limitations of the Debt Collection Act of 1982.  The high Court, however, in a unanimous decision, said that a 1996 law specifically subjected Social Security payments to deductions for student loan debt.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 243

Some in First World begin to question foreign aid idea
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire servcies

For decades, the international community has pumped massive amounts of money into the world’s poorest countries to help promote development and fight poverty. But some critics charge that foreign aid has proven ineffective.

According to the U. S. Agency for International Development, or U.S.A.I.D., western countries have spent more than $1 trillion in grants and loans to 70 countries since the early 1950s to help reduce poverty. But some critics say such foreign aid has failed to pull the world’s poorest nations out of poverty and should be stopped altogether.

Michael Radew, a senior fellow with The World Policy Institute in New York says research shows that foreign aid is ineffective and may even be harmful. “It encourages all the wrong economic policies that made those countries poor in the first place. It strengthens the role of the state sector and of those who control it, who are generally unelected, incompetent and corrupt officials. It actually disadvantages the large majority of the population, especially the rural population," said Radew.

But other analysts contend that foreign aid has produced mixed results, depending on where and how the funds are spent. They note that Taiwan and South Korea, for example, used foreign aid successfully, eventually becoming donors themselves.

Steve Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. said aid is least effective in countries such as Somalia and Haiti, where governments are especially weak, and in politically unstable countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan.  He says, “It’s highly risky. Some of the aid is going to disappear. Some of it is going to be stolen. That is just the environment you are working in. I don’t think that means that we don’t take that risk. I do think it means that we need to be careful, that we take good opportunities and we do the best that we can. But sometimes, we are going to fail.”

United Nations analysts acknowledge that foreign aid runs into difficulties in parts of the world that have little or no democratic infrastructure, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty levels have risen from 41 percent in 1981 to 46 percent in 2001.

Nonetheless, Luca Barbone, director of the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Program said foreign aid has contributed to an overall brighter global picture.

“If you look at the worldwide experience, there has been quite a substantial reduction in poverty levels as measured by income poverty over the last 20 years or so. So while it is true that in sub-Saharan Africa there’s been less than what is desirable, I think that the global numbers indicate quite a substantial success from the poverty point of view," said Barbone.
According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty, on less than a dollar a day, has fallen by another 8 percent from 1.2 billion in 1990 to 1.1 billion people in 2001. But the World Bank’s Barbone says the international community has learned from past successes and failures how to use foreign aid more effectively.

“The international community and the donor countries themselves have to give very high priority to having good systems of financial control and expenditure control in place," Barbone added. "So I would say that the concern goes beyond the aid that is provided in the form of grants or loans. The concern goes really to the capacity of the country to utilize public monies in general, in a non-corrupt and effective manner.”

Because aid grants are often diverted to corrupt officials in undemocratic countries, some analysts are calling for a new approach. American University economist George Ayitey, a native of Ghana, says new strategies are needed because foreign aid typically has failed, especially in Africa.

“If you look at the budgets of several African countries, Uganda for example, Uganda’s budget is 53 percent aid-dependent. And if you take a country like Ghana, Ghana’s budget is almost 58 percent aid-dependent. In other words, the recipient governments expect to get more aid from you in the future.”

Professor Ayitey says the West should reduce the amount of foreign aid it donates, and remove trade barriers, especially for the types of goods that developing countries are likely to export, such as agricultural products and textiles. But Mohamed Akhter, president of InterAction, an alliance of 165 non-governmental agencies and humanitarian organizations in Washington, D.C., says foreign aid can succeed if donor countries designate their monetary aid for specific purposes.

Akhter adds, “Health and education are two areas that take you out of poverty toward prosperity. And I can say this because I myself belong to a very poor family. It is only through education that one is able to break through the cycle of poverty. Second, you work with the governments to make sure that they have an infrastructure with less corruption, and that the aid they are given is appropriately utilized to help the people and not line their own pockets.”

In an attempt to address the problems with foreign aid, 189 nations participating in the United Nations Millennium summit in September 2000, signed the Millennium Declaration, which paves the way for a massive effort to slash global poverty levels in half by 2015. But the goals outlined in the Declaration also recognize that, in order for foreign assistance to be more effective, countries receiving aid must invest in human capital, build democratic institutions, and respect human rights and the rule of law.

Elian's birthday gift: A two-hour speech about corruption by Fidel Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cuban President Fidel Castro has helped celebrate the 12th birthday of famed refugee Elian Gonzalez, by inviting the boy to a speech about the government's campaign against corruption.

Castro appeared in the boy's hometown of Cardenas Tuesday. During a two-hour speech, the Cuban leader praised youth involved in the effort to fight
corruption in the nation's fuel-and food-distribution systems. Elian sat next to him.

Elian Gonzalez sparked an international custody battle in 1999, when he was rescued off the Florida coast after his mother died in an attempt to migrate to the United States. His extended family in Miami insisted he should be allowed to stay in Florida, but the U.S. government eventually returned the boy to his father in Cuba.

Jo Stuart
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