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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 247        E-mail us    
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Three die in chemical plant blast and fire in Moín
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A chemical plant explosion today in Moín near Limón killed at least three persons, injured nearly 20 and sent plumes of acrid smoke hundreds of feet high.

The explosion took place about 11 a.m. and firemen appeared to be making little

headway in the late afternoon. Hundreds of persons have been evacuated to avoid contamination by the toxic smoke.

Some of the injured were being taken to  San José from the Caribbean coast for treatment of severe burns.

Initially the blast is being blames on a tanker that ignited.

Free trade treaty voted out of committee — HERE!
Vivian Rodríguez (as a judge) and Ana Clara Carranza (as a Costa Rican lawmaker under the influence of the U.S.) perform for free trade opponents Tuesday night. But the treaty advanced anyway.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas


This is the week of dreams for a better life
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is the week of dreams. All over the country and beyond Ticos have their eyes on Sunday. This is when the numbers for the Christmas lottery will be pulled.

The lottery, which is a weekly event, is a big deal in Costa Rica because it can propel a cleaning woman or a poor farm worker into riches. Bigger still is the Christmas edition.

The lottery Sunday will have five identical winners. Each will take 500 million colons or slightly less than $1 million. As expected, the time leading up to the lottery is full of tales of greed. For example, lottery vendors are now applying a surcharge to their sales.  Instead of paying 700 colons (about $1.35) for each fraction of a full ticket (entero), customers may have to pay as much as 1,000 colons or nearly $2.

A full ticket is 28,000 colons or about $54, and everyone should have one to sit in front of the television Sunday night while the three-digit serial and the two digit number is called. All is done in public with roulette-type revolving baskets or cages. A third, smaller basket contains the amount of the prize.

At some point, the tiny gold ball representing the grand prize will be pulled, and then all eyes will be on the remaining two baskets. Only then do five persons or groups of persons feel as if lightning has struck, and the dreams of the rest of the populations go crashing.

Of course, there are multiple prizes for lesser amounts. Lottery officials this year even will hold two consolation rounds, Dec. 24 and 31.

Typically, full lottery tickets are held by extended families, neighbors and business


associates. The poor cleaning lady probably cannot afford the $54 price.

For days after the drawing, Spanish-language news reporters will seek out winners and await the disclosure of mystery winners. The Junta de Protección Social de San José that runs the lottery knows about where a winning ticket was sold, but the name or names of the winners are not known until they come forward.

Winners of lesser amounts will line up at the Junta offices near the Hospital Nacional del Niños to be paid. There is no national tax on lottery winnings, so unlike in the United States, winners do not have to consult their accountants before disclosing themselves. Technically, U.S. citizens would have to pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service for any money won in lotteries here. Washington is not holding its breath.

The junta has 485,000 full tickets on the street with an estimated income of some $20 million. The proceeds go to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and a litany of other social welfare agencies.

Meanwhile, just about every Tico knows someone who won the lottery, either the Christmas event or the lesser weekly drawing. They became wealthy instantly and then blew it all on guaro and bad companionship. But you can bet they have a ticket this week.




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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 247

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New waiting areas open
at Juan Santamaría airport


By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alterra Partners, the contract manager of Juan Santamaría airport, put two new boarding areas in service Tuesday in anticipation of the high tourist season.

The terminal space is not fully complete but it had been rushed into service because of the advent of the tourist season and because the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil ordered it.

The new areas contain a total of 1,600 square meters and can hold 400 passengers. Six more waiting areas are being completed and are expected to be ready in four months. In addition there are arrival areas and immigration processing sections still to be completed.

In all, Alterra plans to spend $12 million on terminal construction by the beginning of 2008, but there is a catch. The company, which is working on a concession from the Costa Rican government, needs refinancing, and it has a deadline of Monday to present a restructuring plan to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte. The ministry already had contingency plans in case it has to take over operation of the airport.  It is working with a consortium of foreign banks.

In all, Alterra needs $40 million for renovation work at the airport. The company has been having financial disagreements with the government for years.

The new waiting rooms will handle about 40 percent of the current traffic.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo                         
A production line in Aserrí

Christmas tamales from years past

It is nearing Christmas once again, which in Costa Rica means that traditional foods like tamales will be in high demand.  Over the years, the A.M. Costa Rica staff has written about tamale events, production, customs, sayings and more. For all that you need to know, follow the links below.


The top Christmas treat requires a production line

By Saray Ramírez Vindas

No Christmas is complete in Costa Rica without tamales, and the tradition includes small home factories that turn out the delicious banana-wrapped parcels.

In Aserrí, in the mountains south of San José, the Valverde family and the Tamalera Val-verde has been producing tamales for 52 years...Continue


Tamal time for the whole family or neighborhood

By Daniel Soto

One Latin American tradition that brings all the aspects of the meaning of Christmas charmingly together is the Costa Rican custom of making tamales.

The preparation of tamales usually involves the participation of the whole family or sometimes an entire neighborhood, with folks getting together to prepare the ingredients and assemble the tamales for cooking. It is a lot of fun and one of those marvelous old traditions that brings everyone together in congenial holiday fellowship...Continue


A good batch of tamales starts with a load of banana leaves

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not only does the green banana leaf protect the corn dough, meat and other goodies inside, it imparts a unique flavor to the cooked finished product...Continue


If you wondered where all the pigs go at Christmas . . .

Dr. Lenny Karpman

Every December the aroma and squeals from rural Alajuela pig farms desist.

The winds of Christmas arrive as if to freshen the air, and a local flock of guinea fowl vanishes about a week before Christmas. All over South America, but especially in Columbia, a 10- to 15- pound whole roast suckling pig is the centerpiece of the Christmas dinner table. Glazed hams are also becoming more popular south of the Rio Grande.

There is no doubt in my mind that more pork goes for tamale filling in Costa Rica in December than for anything else...Continue


The cat in the bag meets the unwraped tamale

By Daniel Soto

“To unwrap the tamale.” This dicho corresponds fairly well to the English expressions “to let the cat out of the bag,” or “to spill the beans.” We can say destaparse el tamal whenever some secret is revealed about someone or some group. But you can also use it when you discover something that has been hidden specifically from you...Continue


Destiny plays role in Costa Rica saying about tamales

By Daniel Soto

No Christmas is complete in Costa Rica without tamales, and the tradition includes small home factories that turn out the delicious banana-wrapped parcels.

In Aserrí, in the mountains south of San José, the Valverde family and the Tamalera Val-verde has been producing tamales for 52 years...Continue
 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 247
 







A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Unhappy crowd taunts police in front of legislative building after treaty vote


Committee sends free trade treaty to full assembly, 6-3
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The committee studying the free trade treaty voted 6-3 late Tuesday to send the measure to the full Asamblea Legislativa. The action was expected, and the six members who voted in favor had made their positions clear long ago.

The decision by the committee president, Janina del Vecchio, to cut off discussion angered José Merino del Río of Frente Amplio. He is not a member of the committee but sought time to speak and had presented motions.

Out in the street, a crowd of about 500 anticipated the decision and became highly vocal when they learned that the measure has received a favorable vote. Many in the crowd were young people, but there were flags of the unions representing public employees, too.

The crowd pushed a yellow fence police had erected in front of the Avenida Central entrance to the legislature. Then they pulled part of it down. More police reinforcements arrived, and the crowd never reached the sidewalk.

The fence angered the citizens. Many had said earlier that they were exercising their democratic rights and felt that the government overreacted by putting up the barrier.

The six deputies on the committee representing Liberación Nacional, Unidad Social Cristiana and Movimiento Libertario voted in favor. As expected, three lawmakers representing the Partido Acción Ciudadana voted against the treaty.

Three dictámenes or summaries of opinions on the treaty will be prepared and published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.  Liberación Nacional and the Movimiento Libertario will produce one favoring the document.  Unidad Social Cristiana will produce a second favorable document but with different views elaborated. The Partido Acción Ciudadana will explain its negative vote in a third. Lawmakers said citizens will have access to all views, thanks to public publication.

The committee, the  Comisión Permanente Especial de
Relaciones Internacionales y Comercio Exterior, met in unusual evening session to finish up work on the treaty.
Opponents complained that President Óscar Arias Sánchez had pushed too hard for the treaty. The assembly president had given the committee a deadline of Tuesday to send forth the treaty, although committee members had staked out a period this morning to finish up if needed.

The full assembly cannot act on the treaty until two days after its publication in La Gaceta. Then lawmakers will be going on Christmas vacation. So serious discussion of the measure on the floor of the assembly probably will not take place until January.

Lawmakers who oppose the treaty noted that the action Tuesday night was expected and that the international agreement with the United States has a long way to go, including a study of the document and the legislative process by the Sala IV constitutional court.

The treaty is not a panacea. It is a commercial instrument that will collaborate in the development of Costa Rica, said Mayi Antillón, the leader of Liberación Nacional, after the vote.

Evita Arguedas of Movimiento Libertario said she would work to bring the so-called complementary agenda before the full assembly. This is a basket of legal changes that bring Costa Rican law into conformity with the treaty.

When the committee began its evening session there were 336 motions on the table. Some were from the committee staff and others were from Frente Amplio and the Partido Acción Ciudadana.  The committee approved 17 motions and rejected 50. The remainder were overlooked, one of the things that sparked Marino del Rio's anger. The lawmakers can bring up their motions again in the full assembly.

The vote was about 11:30 p.m. The crowd of opponents began to disburse about 12:30 a.m. without any major incidents.

Costa Rica is the only one of four other Central American nations and the Dominican Republic that has not approved the pact.


An A.M. Costa Rica commentary
Country has and will change with or without trade treaty

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica


Modern marvels have cut the isolation for expats and brought residents here closer to their families elsewhere.

It was only six years ago that the local Internet provider, Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., was struggling to provide dial-up service to the metropolitan area. And the prices for access at higher speeds were multiples of what they are now.

Thanks to the Internet, its voice over telephone technology, cell phone cameras and improved access to the worldwide web, expats are plugged in like never before. Software, popular music and even eBay are as close as the computer. Add a small Web cam, and holiday visits via the Internet are visual.

Some 20 or more years ago, expats in Latin America were dependent on the mail service. Courier service was in its infancy. The mails were unreliable. The Sunday New York Times was like gold. So were novels in English. Television was local and boring. Photographs took two to three days. The occasional overseas telephone call required a major investment. And if a sports fan were lucky, the Armed Forces network on shortwave might have live coverage of an American football or baseball game.

Today the Internet is as close as the cell telephone. Internet television carries the favorite soap opera available when viewers want it. And a handful of courier services will walk overseas purchases through customs and make delivery. The New York Times is on the Web, as are thousands of publications. Political junkies can see real
time television talk shows and even be fully briefed on the latest ax murder, thanks to Nancy Grace.

For Costa Ricans, the change has warped the culture. The youngsters are way ahead of their parents. As the government struggles to add Internet service to various agencies and create a valid virtual signature system, the kids are in MySpace.com perfecting their flirting and their English.

Meanwhile, thousands of Costa Ricans are at work producing the computer chips that make modern life possible.

Globalization is here whether or not the free trade treaty with the United States wins approval. None of the inventions that are icons of modern life was created in Costa Rica. Not cell telephones. Not soap operas. Not Web cams. And not Intel chips.

To try to create a unique Costa Rican development model, as some academics seek to do in opposition to the free trade treaty, is futile. Each of the modern marvels is the survivor of a vicious Darwinesque vetting process. For every iTunes there are the bleaching bones of many short-lived marvels, like the eight-track.

The free trade treaty may not be a good idea for Costa Rica. But reaching out and becoming more in step with the rhythms of the world is. Fortunately, that process, thanks to global communication, is taking place mostly without government initiatives.

The younger generation is more worldly and more skilled at technology, and that will be good for Costa Rica.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 247





Sustainable energy is now the concern of James Latham
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

James Latham, who may be best remembered for the controversial ousting of his radio station from the U.N. University for Peace back in 2003, was in town for a presentation about sustainable energy sources. 

The forum in Escazú began with a showing of the documentary “Who killed the electric car?” The movie questions the motives and politics involved in termination of General Electric's EV1 electric automobile.

Following the film, Latham offered personal opinions and viewpoints on the future of energy technology.  He suggested that technilogical advances are making it more cost effective and more realistic to live sustainably.  Thanks to solar, hydro and wind power, Latham has gone over 20 years without receiving a home electric bill, a luxury that he has recently extended to his daughters houses as well, he said.  He also predicted that plug-in hybrid cars that meet the needs of most people will be on the market by 2008.

Latham pointed to shortcomings in the media and corporate
interests as factors that suppress some of the major sustainable enegery issues.  Regardless of these challenges, Latham said that there is hope for sustainable energy because of technological advances and an increasing demand from common people.

Somewhat optimistically, he said that it is possible for humans to live without killing off the earth and making it a horrible place for future generations.  Most positively, he said that the technology is here, and the time to start living sustainbly is now. 

Since 1987 Latham has been reporting and broadcasting human rights, peace, and environment stories to audiences around the world.  He recently released a science-fiction novel entitled, “Beyond Starlight,” under the pen name James Abbey.  He continues to run Radio for Peace International, which is now broadcast over the Internet, from his office in St. Thomas, on one of the Virgin Islands.

Radio for Peace International was evicted from the university in Ciudad Colon, but workers locked themselves in the station for a month before handing the building over to university officials in November 2003.


Fifth edition of 'Explore Costa Rica' ready for sale
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Fifth Edition of "Explore Costa Rica," a comprehensive travel guide, has just been published by San Francisco's Manatee Press.

"Explore Costa Rica" covers internal air flights, bus travel, ferry schedules, what to do, what to avoid, studying Spanish, volunteer programs, and sustainable tourism, and includes maps, photos, Web sites, and useful tips. The guide is humorous, informative, educational, and highly detailed. It supplies invaluable and candid advice on hotels, inns, resorts, camping, restaurants, sights, and tours.

Author Harry S. Pariser explained why Costa Rica is so appealing to travelers:

"For many reasons. Costa Rica has a good infrastructure relative to its neighbors. It is peaceful, friendly and environmentally concerned and has relatively high standards of living, literacy, education, hygiene, and safety. One may visit both coasts in the course of a single day, and Costa Rica offers virtually every type of activity you can imagine: kayaking, hiking, windsurfing, surfing, rock climbing, mountain climbing, horseback riding, ballooning, and more!"

"It is also distinct in that Costa Rica is compact and relatively easy to get around in. Costa Rica maintains extensive tracts of rainforest, a number of cloud forests, tropical dry forests, and spectacular volcanoes; beaches line both coasts.

"Legendary for its biological diversity, visitors may easily spot monkeys, toucans, coatis, and other creatures. Costa Rica is also unique in having hundreds of nature lodges and bed-and-breakfast inns. Many of these are quite amazing places to stay: each has a distinct character and personable proprietors. Some own private nature preserves with trails. All are covered in my book which is more personal than most."

Included are many useful tips, readings, reader recommendations, and special places. the author provides extensive information on wildlife, rainforests, national parks, ecotourism projects, history, and environmental


controversies. It is hand-tailored for visitors who travel to learn and grow, Pariser said. Included are numerous color and black-and-white photos, 36 maps, and thousands of fax numbers, Web sites, and e-mail addresses.

The guide is helpful for every visitor, be they students, surfers, divers, parents with children, birdwatchers, and hikers. It even has a page on travel tips for the disabled.

Although "Explore Costa Rica" will be available in bookstores and on other Web sites later this month, it is currently available only at http://www.ecocostarica.com for $23 plus $4 additional for shipping and handling in the US, US$6 for priority mail shipping, and US$10 for shipping to Costa Rica, Canada, and the rest of the world via USPS Global Priority Mail.

Payment is via Google Checkout or Paypal. It may also be ordered by phone with a credit card at SCB Distributors (800-729-6423).

Pdf files of individual chapters (such as Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero) will be available for purchase via the Internet soon.

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