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(506) 223-1327            Published Monday, Dec. 12, 2005, in  Vol. 5, No. 245          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Food distributor Demasa glorifies gift of corn to world

A.M. Costa Rica photos
Santa's house sports a layer of snow

Absence of snow makes hearts grow fonder
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This may seem astounding to the North Americans who are slipping, sliding and digging out in sub-freezing weather, but Costa Ricans are preoccupied with snow.

"It's because we don't know what snow is," said a taxi driver Saturday as he negotiated a sharp right turn into a 35-degree hill in north San José. A few minutes later the Tico long-distance love of snow was obvious.

Many of the floats for the Festival de la Luz incorporated snow as their Christmas theme. Santa's house had snow on the roof. The Coca Cola polar bears cavorted in snow atop four semi-trailers. Even Santa himself was garbed for the cold north winds.

One would expect a Costa Rican Santa to be wearing sandals, cutoffs and a loud Hawaiian shirt and riding a surfboard pulled by eight tiny toucans. But, no. Santa here is of the red-suited variety bundled against the warm.

And the hundreds of thousands who cheered the festival parade Saturday would not have it any other way. From La Sabana to the west, through Paseo Colon to the Plaza de la Democracia, spectators were six to eight deep cheering on the parade. The crowd was only slightly less for the pre-parade that kicked off at 3 p.m. on Paseo Colon. Some families spend eight hours enjoying the traditional pre-Christmas activities.

They had a lot to see. The float for the Municipality de San José, the top winner, had an Aztec theme with giant replicas of the pre-Columbian gold ornaments found in much of Costa Rica.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo came forth with a jungle float with life-size statues of forest creatures as well as a sports raft ready for the rapids.

The Banco de Costa Rica hosted a float full of champions from the Special Olympics amid giant statues of sports participants.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Valentica, 2, doesn't exacatly know what to make of the jolly old elf.

And there was no snow despite evening temperatures that dipped as low as 17 degrees. That's 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snow is hardly a problem here, although a dusting of snow was registered in January 2002 at Cerro de la Muerte which is 3,491 meters (11,450 feet) above sea level.

Even in the downtown, the confetti holiday shoppers throw each night mimics snow, although you cannot easily make a confettiball.

Many Costa Ricans travel outside the county and have seen snow up close and personal. The monied class has been known to frequent Aspen, Vail and other ski resorts.

But even though the average Costa Rican has not been exposed to Jack Frost's handiwork, fake snow is widespread during the holidays. If you want the real stuff, there is a refrigeration company that erects an insulated house in west San José where neighborhood children can slip, slide and crawl through an igloo. That's about as white as it gets.

Police reported a peaceful parade with just six arrests. More than 800 Fuerza Pública officers provided security as well as hundreds of Cruz Roja technicians and Tránsito policemen.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 245

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U.S. Embassy has plans
to increase windows

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The dust will be flying at the U.S. Embassy for at least six months while changes are made to the consular section.

An embassy announcement said the external security of the embassy also will be improved.

While the work in the consular section is going on, those Costa Ricans seeking visas and those U.S. citizens seeking consular services will conduct their business in a temporary structure, the embassy announcement said.

The embassy announcement said that the reason for the construction at the 20-year-old building in Pavas was because the number of visitors is growing, including the number of U.S. citizens who live and visit Costa Rica. However, the embassy has faced constant criticism over the delays in handling appointments for visa applicants.

The embassy announcement said that walls would be torn down to build more offices and windows where the public conducts business. Although the work is planned to take place at times when the public is not at the consular section, the embassy announcement said that visitors should be prepared for dust and noise.

The announcement said little about the security changes at the embassy, which already is surrounded by a wall and contains devices to prevent the entry of vehicles. This will take 10 months more, the announcement said.

Costa Rican team gets
tough Germany to start

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After all their hard work to get into the 2006 World Cup in Germany, it looks as though Costa Rica's national team may make an early exit.  They've drawn international powerhouse and host Germany for their first match June 9 in Munich. 

The Ticos have also drawn Ecuador and Poland, both of which the Sele, as Costa Rica's national team is affectionately called here, is ranked higher.  Costa Rica is 21st, Ecuador is 37th, and Poland is just behind the Ticos at 23rd.  Germany is only ranked 16th but it's a good bet that the crowd World Cup Stadium in Munich will be just as fired up as the German national team will be for the first match. The world tourney is put on by the Federation Internationale de Football Association

According to the official World Cup Web site: “Always expected to shine in FIFA World Cup year, Germany ought to be even more menacing with home advantage this time around. And they will also be confident of starting off on the right foot against Costa Rica, a team with numerous qualities, but evidently a rung below their opponents on the international footballing ladder. Add the fact that there will not be a spare seat in Munich as the hosts feel the force of an entire nation behind them and it is hard to imagine them slipping up.”

Poland has traditionally done well against the Germans and the Ecuadorian team, though it won only one World Cup match, against another European team, Croatia in 2002.  The Poles have two European teams in their bracket this year and no one is expecting them to be pushovers, said the Web site. 

The first round is a round-robin with each team in a group playing every other team in its group.  The best two teams from each of the eight groups advance.  After that, the tournament takes on a single elimination format until the finals.  

Puntarenas citizens
pledge to help cops

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 5,000 Puntarenas residents and local business owners became allies to the Fuerza Pública Saturday, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said.   The activity was an effort to involve the public in the effort of policing the streets of that province 

“With this graduation, we want to make local residents understand that security is not the affair of only the police force.  It is an integral theme in which residents also need to involve themselves,” said Juan José Andrade, regional director of the Fuerza Pública in Puntarenas.

Communities from the center of the province such as Barranca, Chacarita, El Roble, Aguirre and Paquera among others have been learning the themes of crime prevention for the last few weeks.  Instructors of the citizenry put a special emphasis on the actions in conjunction with the police force so that officers can in effect expand their vigilance.

The province is a long one that runs all the way to the Panamá border and includes the southern half of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Gunmen hold up plant
in Pozos de Santa Ana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six hooded gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles surprised four guards at MUCA in Pozos de Santa Ana early Friday morning, made off with 8 million colons ($16,187) and four portable computers, said agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization.  MUCA is a bus factory. 

Once the gunmen had overwhelmed the guards, they managed to break into a safe at the business holding the money and the computers.  The total theft was worth some 15 million colons ($30,352), agents said. 

Fugitive still on loose

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police still have not found one or two men who broke out of the La Reforma prison in Alajuela early Saturday. The fugitive is under investigation for a half dozen murders.

He is Michael Javier Inglish Alegría, 22,  A companion, Charleston Orlando Hernández Thomas, 18, surrendered to police Sunday.  Both are from the Limon area. For Inglish, it is his third jail break. In order to escape from the facility, the men had to pass three guard towers and crawl under a fence.

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Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 245

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
When bad things happen, it's best to be candid

When bad things happen, institutions are judged by how they handle the crisis.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Costa Rica gets a zero for its handling of the closing of Parque Nacional Corcovado.

The director of the conservation district ordered the park closed Saturday, Dec. 3, but there was no public notice given. A.M. Costa Rica readers did not find out until Tuesday afternoon. Spanish speakers may have learned Thursday when an article appeared in La Nación.

The park is one of the crown jewels of nature in Costa Rica. Tourists are justifiable unhappy that they had no warning. Some probably are still headed here with plans to visit or stay in the park, unaware that it is closed at least through Dec. 20.

The reason, of course, is the strange and massive die-off of wildlife there. The cause still is a mystery.
The order closing the park was copied to a number of agencies, including Ambiente y Energía and Turismo. Each has a well-paid professional staff of communicators who did not communicate.

Certainly there is a fear in the Osa Peninsular surrounding the park that the closure would hurt tourism. Which is better: Tourists who come and are really unhappy because the park is closed or tourists who are told ahead of time and make alternative plans?

Even Thursday morning tour agencies were calling A.M. Costa Rica to find out the story.

The grand prize goes to the official who said Wednesday that the park closure had not harmed tourism. Of course not. No one knew about it, and tourists continued to arrive.

But don't expect them to come back.

The words and traditions of a Merry Christmas here
¡Felices Pascuas!

Felices Pascuas is not really a dicho at all, but I thought it would be a good idea to write a column about the special expressions we use and the traditions we practice during the holiday season in Costa Rica.

Felices Pascuas means “Merry Christmas.” Feliz Navidad is the way of saying Merry Christmas that is probably better known among non-Spanish speakers perhaps because it is the title of a Christmas song made famous in a recording by José Feliciano in the late 1960s. We also call Christmas Day el dia del Niño or “the day of the child,” meaning, of course, the day of the baby Jesus. The word pascua of course refers to “the lamb,” which is the symbol of Christ the Savior.

Our Christmas customs in Latin America mostly come from traditions as practiced in Spain. One such tradition, however, that didn’t quite make it intact from European Spain to her former American colonies is the custom of eating lechon jamon, or suckling pig, at Christmastime. This practice undoubtedly arose out of Spanish opposition to Jewish and Muslim tradition, and probably originated in the early 15th century, when Christian Spaniards were busy driving the Moors and the Jews out of Iberia.

Although many Costa Rican families may serve pork during the holidays, it is usually of the adult variety. Eating piglets is rather abhorrent to most Latinos, and besides, such “delicacies” are quite expensive.

On Dec. 24 the children wait for baby Jesus to be born. It is the Christ child that gives us presents. The presents symbolize the gift of Christ’s love and his sacrifice for us. St. Nicolas is sort of the messenger of Jesus who delivers the presents.

Traditionally, after Mass and Christmas Eve dinner the kids go to bed. While they are sleeping St. Nicholas brings the presents and leaves them under the children’s beds. Often parents will wake the children to allow them to play with their new toys.

There is a method to this particular “tradition.” Since the adults are often up most of the night Christmas Eve, the hope is that the kids will tire themselves out so completely with the excitement of playing with their presents that they will go back to bed and sleep late into the day on Christmas, thus allowing the adults a modicum of extra rest.

But I, of course, being very travieso (naughty or impish), would always get up early anyway and go clambering out of the house in search of my friends. After all, I had to show off my new presents to someone!

When we reach adolescence the presents under the bed usually stop. By age 15 my parents were giving us money to spend on whatever we would like for Christmas. Usually we would buy some fancy new clothes to estrenar, to introduce or wear for the first time, on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve is the real party night of the holiday season in Latin America. There is food and drink aplenty and, of course, rivers of champaign for raising many toasts. At the sumptuous New Year’s 
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Eve feast is where you are likely to find roast pork, and, in Costa Rica at least, chicha, which is a
potentially very potent potable of indigenous origin that can be fermented from a number of sources such as sugar cane, pineapple, or other fruits.

One Spanish New Year tradition that is honored all over Latin America is the consumption of 12 grapes – one grape for each month of the year – at midnight. Custom has it that all twelve must be consumed before the clock finishes striking midnight in order to ensure a happy and prosperous life in the year that has just started.

Like Christmas, we always celebrate New Year’s with family. But unlike the preceding holiday when most people stay in, after midnight on New Year’s many people go out reveling.

Ticos who live in the San José metropolitan area flock to the town of Zapote to celebrate the New Year. Here is where the bullfights are held at this time of year, but there is also a carnival with amusement-park rides, and many, many bars and restaurants set up in tents along the midway.

The atmosphere at Zapote is festive, to say the least, and some folks have a tendency to enjoy themselves perhaps a bit too much. It’s better to go there by taxi, as the traffic crunch is often fierce.

El dia de los Reyes Magos or “Three Kings Day,” on Jan. 6 marks the end of the holidays in Costa Rica. We do not celebrate el dia de los Reyes Magos with presents, as is the custom in Spain. But some very observant Catholic homes still practice the very old custom of performing a special ceremony of prayers, Bible verses, and hymns reserved for dismantling and putting away the paso de la Natividad or créche.

Though now nearly ubiquitous, the Christmas tree is a relative newcomer to the holiday scene in Costa Rica. The traditional household adornment for Christmas is an often elaborate and sometime extremely intricate nativity scene. The ceremony of dismantling this créche on el dia de los Reyes Magos is called el rezo del Niño, or devotions of the (Christ) child. This ceremony does not require the presence of a priest, and is usually performed by a local woman who has learned the liturgy and specializes in celebrating it – usually for hire – in private homes. She is usually assisted by a guitarist and a singer or two to lead the hymns.

Now you know something of our holiday traditions. So, if you are going to be in Costa Rica this Christmas enjoy yourself to the fullest by having ¡Felices Pascuas! Y un ¡Prospero Año Nuevo!

A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 12, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 245

Woman candidate in Chile will face foe in runoff vote
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

SANTIAGO, Chile — A runoff Jan. 15 is certain between socialist Michelle Bachelet and right wing candidate and billionaire businessman Sebastian Piñera.

Ms. Bachelet earned  45.8 percent of the popular vote with returns counted from 84.4 percent of the  5,643,703 votes cast, according to Jorge Correa Sutil, undersecretary of Interior who is in charge of counting the votes.

The Jan. 15 election will determine a successor to President Ricardo Lagos, who cannot run again.

Ms. Bachelet is a single mother and former defense minister who was tortured during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. She would be Chile's first woman president.

Chileans also elected all 120 members of their lower house and 20 out of the country's 38 senators.
In order to be president it appears one has to win three times, Ms. Bachelet told her supporters in her headquarters at the Hotel Plaza San Francisco. Her party is called Concertación.

She meant that she had to win the first round, which she did, and the elections for the parliament and also the Jan. 15 voting.

She said that it appears that her party has won a majority in the chamber of deputies and in the senate, allowing her followers to approve the party programs if she wins in January.

In the  Hotel Crowne Plaza, headquarters of Renovación Nacional, Piñera was joined by Joaquín Lavín, the candidate of Alianza por Chile, who finished third and was out of the runoff with  23.3 percent of the vote. Piñera got 25.7 percent.

Lavín said he would offer all his support to Piñera.

The fourth candidate, Tomás Hirsch of Pacto Junto Podemos Más, won 5.3 percent of the vote.

Two men convicted in murder of U.S. nun in Brazil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BELEM, Brazil — Two Brazilian men have been convicted of killing an American nun who spent decades defending land rights for poor settlers in the Amazon.

A jury in this Brazilian city Saturday found the defendants guilty of murdering Sister Dorothy Stang, 73.

The man who shot Sister Stang six times was sentenced to 27 years in prison, while his accomplice was sentenced to 17 years.
Sister Dorothy's 68-year-old brother said the sentences represent justice for his sister and the poor of the Amazon.

But observers say the real test will be if Brazil tries the ranchers who are alleged to have paid the men to kill the nun.

Three defendants remain accused of ordering and financing the murder.

A Brazilian Senate commission has concluded the crime was part of a wider problem and urged a strong government crackdown on such extra-judicial killings.

Jo Stuart
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