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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 248        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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One of three seriously burned chemical workers, Elmer Sánchez Solano, 34, is brought to Hospital San Juan de Dios  after an airplane ride from the Caribbean coast.

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Firemen finally get control of toxic Moín blaze
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Firemen finally got the upper hand on a spectacular chemical fire that evicted more than 300 Moín neighbors, halted exports at the nation's busiest port, killed at least one worker and badly burned at least three.

Héctor Chaves León, director of the Cuerpo de Bomberos, said the blaze was the worst in years. It sent flames 300 to 400 feet in the air and discharged toxic black clouds.

The site is a storage facility of Químicos Holanda Costa Rica S.A., which has its principal office in Barreal de Heredia. An accountant for the firm said the loss is in the millions but that a better estimate would be made today.

It was about 10 p.m. when Chaves said that the blaze was under control. Firemen were short on water and eventually had to use seawater to soak the site. The flames feasted on a smorgasbord of chemicals. Chaves said present were 118 tons of toluene, a  common solvent that has been used as race car fuel.  There also were 18 tons of xilene, a benzene derivative, propanol, metanol, alcohol and a host of other industrial substances, he said, citing figures from company officials.

Israel Gómez, the accountant, said that the company is an importer and distributor of chemicals, but does not produce end products.

At least five of the 20 tanks on the 9,000-meter-square (97,000-square-foot) property were involved in the blaze. One of the three persons seriously injured was a company employee.
but the other two worked for contractors, Gómez said.

The blaze is believed to have started while workers were filling a tanker truck shortly before noon. A spark ignited the liquid, explosions took place and workers fled the plant.

Both Gómez and Chaves said the company was covered by insurance.

Three ministers came to the scene to oversee activities. They were Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia;  Fernando Berrocal Soto, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, and  Marco Vargas, minister of  Coordinación Interinstitucional.

The plant is in Villa del Mar, which is at the entrance to Limón, near the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo and the road that leads to the docks of Moín. Truck passage to the docks was halted when the blaze broke out but was expected to resume early today.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said it had opened three shelters in central Limón. The commission said that a fire like this had not been seen in Costa Rica since a 1991 blaze at the refinery property.

Several dozen persons, including two firemen, were treated for smoke inhalation. The long-term effects of this toxic smoke are not known. The three most seriously injured persons were taken by air to San José where two, Elmer Sánchez Solano, 34, and Greivin Cortés Quirós, 30, were being treated at Hospital San Juan de Dios and one, Geovanny Fernández Montoya, 30, was at Hospital México.

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 248  

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Citigroup says it will buy Grupo Cuscatlan for $1.51 billion
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Citigroup announced in New York Wednesday that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire the subsidiaries of Grupo Cuscatlan from Corporacion UBC Internacional S.A., the subsidiaries’ holding company with 2,500 shareholders, for $1.51 billion in cash and stock. Grupo Cuscatlan, with operations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panamá, is one of the leading financial groups in Central America.
Citigroup will acquire Grupo Cuscatlan’s banking and financial intermediaries, including pension and insurance operations in El Salvador. This transaction will further expand Citigroup’s corporate and retail operations in the region and complement its pending acquisition of Grupo Financiero Uno, the largest credit card issuer in Central America.
Operating under the Banco Cuscatlan trademark, Grupo Cuscatlan subsidiaries offer corporate and commercial banking products and services, as well as a growing suite of consumer banking products. The group has $5.4 billion in assets, $3.5 billion in loans, $3.4 billion in deposits as of September 30, 2006. The company has highly regarded and strong corporate relationships throughout Central America. Grupo Cuscatlan currently serves more than 45,000 corporate clients and 1.2 million consumer clients through a distribution network of 202 branches and 263 ATMs 
throughout the region. It has approximately 5,000 employees.
“Grupo Cuscatlan has a rich history of growing strategically to meet the increasing needs of our clients,” said Mauricio Samayoa, CEO Grupo Cuscatlan. “From a basically local operation, we grew to a regional institution as our clients expanded their reach. We are delighted that, as we join the Citigroup premier brand and global network, we will be able to offer our loyal clients and employees top of the line world-wide products.”
The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals, is anticipated to close in early 2007.
Citigroup has operated in Central America for more than 100 years with a strong corporate investment banking presence in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, as well as a credit card business in Panama. Recently it announced the acquisition of Grupo Financiero Uno, which has more than one million retail clients representing $1.1 million credit card accounts, $1.2 billion in credit card receivables and $1.3 billion in deposits in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Grupo Financiero Uno also has a distribution network of 75 branches and more than one hundred mini branches and points of sale.

Our reader's opinion

Reader is Pinochet fan
because of economic policies

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Your Pinochet obituary was much too harsh on the great General Augusto Pinochet. Your characterization of him as a vicious murderous dictator would amuse most of Chile’s off-campus citizens today.

The coup Pinochet led had very little to do with the CIA and much more to do with the state of Chile under Allende. Allende achieved power much the same as Daniel Ortega just did again in Nicaragua by changing the constitution and being elected by exactly 38 percent.

Allende then proceeded to destroy and nationalize a beautiful country. Disagree if you wish, but most people off-campus there think Chile was rescued by Pinochet. Repatriating land and business. Privatizing much of the public sector especially Social Security. Employing the help of the brilliant Milton Friedman. Today, Chile is the jewel of all the Americas including the U.S.A. They owe all of this to Pinochet and the only truly free, workable and equitable economic system, capitalism.

No subsequent Chilean government including the current socialist one ever even considered changing the capitalist miracle they inherited from Pinochet back to an Allende/Castro vision of Communist poverty hell.

By the way, after getting Chile back on safe turf Pinochet put his administration up to election and stepped aside when outvoted. Some dictator. Yes, he did kill 3,000 or so Communists. Standing ovation here, good job, Augusto. Oh, Venezuela or Cuba, but for one good general like Pinochet.
George P. Chapogas
Playas del Coco

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, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 248  

An A.M. Costa Rica guest editorial
Book on U.S.-Latin history not for those with weak stomachs
By Michael Cook*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
The wire service photo of presidents Arias and Bush shaking hands was followed by the news that Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, was dead.
That same weekend, I finished reading Greg Grandin's latest book, ¨Empire's Workshop: Latin America, The United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.¨
Those three events brought home to me just how complex and troubled U.S.-Latin relations have been over the years, and are likely to be for years to come.
Despite the bonhomie on display in dons Oscar and George's photo op, anyone paying attention knows that, on some very fundamental levels, serious issues confront the evolving Costa Rican-American relationship.
Those issues will inevitably grow in number and complexity as the American colonization of Costa Rica continues unabated.
Pinochet's death may provide Chile the opportunity to put the painful divisiveness wrought by his brutal rule behind it. Sadly though, with Pinochet having died before facing justice, and with the inflammatory remarks of his military officer grandson at the caudillo's funeral, Chiles divisions may yet grow deeper.
It was Grandin's book, however, that helped me put the week's events and images in perspective. A professor of political science at New York University, Grandin is an internationally recognized expert on Latin American politics and history, particularly in terms of the region's relations with the United States.
The book is not an easy read for any American in possession of a conscience.
It should, however, be mandatory reading for any American considering making a Latin American country their home.
Once one has learned about the darker side of our government's actions in this corner of the world, you'll better understand why so many people remain skeptical of U.S. intentions here.
How may Americans know, for example, the U.S. military
 did not sanction the first use of a certain defoliant in Vietnam? That was done way back in 1964 in the jungles of Colombia.
How many Americans know Richard Helms, Richard Nixon's own CIA director, testified before a U.S. Senate committee in 1975 that he saw documents signed by Richard Nixon ordering the overthrow of the democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile and the installation of the brutal Pinochet in his place?

How many Americans remember, or even know about, the massacre of campesinos in the Salvadoran village of El Mozote in 1981?
U.S.-backed military death squads entered the village, according to Professor Grandin, under orders to leave as little evidence as possible behind revealing from where their true support came.
They initially began to hack the villagers, suspected of being sympathetic to anti-government, leftist rebels, to death. That, however, was very labor intensive. The death squad ultimately opened fire.

Some 10 years later, when the mass graves of El Mozote were opened, forensic pathologists found hundreds of corpses with bullets embedded in them, bearing identification indicating they'd been manufactured in a Missouri munitions plant for the U.S. military. [Many of the bodies were of women and children.]
This list just goes on and on in country after country.
Writing about this is not just an exercise in America bashing.
It is an attempt to help people understand, especially Americans, that if the U.S. government had to stoop to the levels it did here in the 1970s and 1980s to combat the ¨ism¨of communism, and is stooping to the levels we are seeing today in the war against the ¨ism¨that is terror, then, 15 years after the end of the Cold War and five plus years into the war on terror, our enemies, old and new, have been victorious.
And that, my friends, is a tragedy, not only for the United States, but for the entire world.
* Mr. Cook lives in Puerto Viejo de Limón and North Truro, Massachusetts

Fraud convictions upheld against Canadian and associate
By the A.M., Costa Rica staff

The Sala III supreme criminal court has upheld the eight-year sentences handed out to a Canadian who promised the Nicoya Peninsula town of Paquera an airport, hotel, casino and $100 million in loans.

The allegation of fraud also was upheld against the man's assistant. But magistrates absolved the former president and treasurer of the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera.

The Canadian, identified in court papers as Franceso Elio Pecora, weaved a Pied Piper's tale to the development association, which paid him commissions up front. Pecora
 effectively took over the association with the promise of large loans.

His associate is Ileana Romero Bermudez.

The men who were exonerated are Alvin Jiménez Jiménez, the former president, and Hernán, Sánchez Araya, the former treasurer.  The prosecutors claimed that the two Costa Ricans conspired with Pecora to defraud the association, but the magistrates said this had not been proved beyond a doubt.

All of the parties appealed their April 19 conviction in Puntarenas court. The Sala III decision was made Dec. 7 but only made public Wednesday.

Pedestrian in Granadilla Norte murdered for the cell telephone he carried
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men are facing murder charges after a pedestrian was shot during a robbery involving a cell telephone.

The crime happened in the Granadilla Norte section of Curridabat. The victim, identified as Javier Chávez Pérez, 31, was on foot when he was confronted by three men. He
appears to have tried to flee and suffered a bullet in the back. His body was dumped down a grade against the wall of a construction site. He lived a half block away.

Fuerza Pública officers rounded up three men with the last names and ages of Gutiérrez Fernández, 18, Sequeiera Arauz, 19, and Vargas Mora, 18. From  Sequeiera they said they confiscated a .38-caliber pistol.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 248

Even with Fidel ill, Cuban government reported more rigid
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department's top official for Latin America said Wednesday that Cuba's government has become more hard-line since the ailing Fidel Castro transferred power to his brother Raul in late July.  The official, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, said U.S. officials see no reformer in the current Cuban political lineup. 

Raul Castro made an overture for dialogue with the United States in a speech Dec. 2 at a rally marking his brother's 80th birthday.

But the State Department's top diplomat for Latin America says if anything, the communist government in Havana has become more rigid and orthodox since the transfer of power, and the Raul Castro gesture is not being viewed here as a real opportunity for change.

Shannon gave a bleak assessment of prospects for early change in U.S.-Cuban relations. He said there is no doubt that responsibility for running day-to-day affairs in Cuba has been passed to Raul Castro, the longtime defense minister, but that there is no hint of change in the government's approach:

"With Fidel still alive, the regime has actually become harder, more orthodox," he said.  "And it's not in a position to signal in any meaningful way, what direction it will take post-Fidel. So we don't feel that we've lost an important
moment, because quite frankly we don't see any significant possibility of change of any kind until Fidel is gone."

Shannon said the United States has no independent information on the condition of Fidel Castro, who underwent intestinal surgery in July, but he termed it significant that the Cuban leader was not able to make an appearance at the birthday events early this month.

He said if the past is any indicator, Raul Castro, known as a brutal enforcer of Communist rule, will not be an agent of change in Cuba and none of the other senior figures in the hierarchy has shown any signs of being a reformer either.

Shannon said after Fidel Castro passes from the scene, Cuban leaders will have a strategic choice to make:

"Once he goes, the successor government is going to have to chart out some kind of path into the future," he added.  "The question is what kind of path does it chart out? Does it chart out a path that only deepens the repression and deepens the misery? Or does it attempt to chart out a path that is one of engagement with the world and an opening, both political and economic. But there are no clear signals about what that path is going to be."

Shannon said the Bush administration is comfortable with the terms of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act from Congress, which forbids U.S. recognition of any transitional Cuban government that includes Raul Castro.

Grandson's comments at Gen. Pinochet funeral displease Chilean officials
 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chilean Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot has called remarks made during the funeral of former dictator Augusto Pinochet "an insult to the state."

Ms. Blanlot referred to a speech made Tuesday by Pinochet's grandson, Capt. Augusto Pinochet Molina, during the funeral. Molina defended his grandfather's 1973 overthrow of President Salvador Allende, saying Allende's government had tried to impose a totalitarian government through force.

Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, said she expected the army will take 'necessary measures' to punish Augusto Pinochet.
Defense Minister Blanlot said that it is unacceptable for an active member of the Chilean armed forces to make statements so politicized they amount to what she called an insult to the state. She said she trusts the army will take appropriate action in response.

Blanlot was the only government representative at Pinochet's funeral Tuesday at Santiago's Military School. President Bachelet, who was tortured and exiled by Pinochet's regime, declined to attend. Ms. Bachelet also refused to give the former dictator a state funeral, as is usually awarded a former president.

Gen. Pinochet's poor health over the years exempted him from standing trial for the deaths of more than 3,000 people who died during his rule from 1973 to 1990.

Three die in two-vehicle mishap early Wednesday in the Provincia de Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three persons were killed and others seriously injured in a car accident in the area of Pacuarito, Limón, at 2 a.m. Wednesday.  The dead include a 3-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl, and a 35-year-old women with the surnames Valverde Zúñiga.

The accident happened when an Isuzu vehicle carrying eight persons, including those who died, collided with the rear of a truck driven by a man with the last name of Gutiérrez, who was injured in the incident, said the Judicial
Investigating Organization.  The truck was travelling from Limón to Siquirres carrying a load of wood.  Those travelling in the Isuzu were said to be returning from a social activity less than two kilometers from the crash.

Hospitalized in Limón include a 30-year-old women with the last name Valverde Rojas, a 7-year-old boy, and a 15-year-old youth.  A child of less than 4-years-old was transferred in serious condition to the Hospital de Los Niños. 

Agents in the area continue to investigate.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 248

300 youngsters will participate in street soccer festival
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
More than 300 boys and girls will be participating in “Festival de Fútbol Calle,” a street soccer/football festival and tournament.  All of the students from the Fundación Fútbol por la Vida will be participating in the event, which is also a closing ceremony for the football schools. 

The festival is taking place Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Centro Nacional de Arte y Cultura, which is located just east of the Parque Morazán.  Throughout the day there will be skill demonstrations followed by a tournament in which a team is to be named the official  champions of the Festival de Fútbol Calle.  The games will
be played in a mobile court that was built in Costa Rica and made possible with funding from the German Embassy.

Between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. there will be other cultural activities including juggling, storytelling, breakdancing, movies and more.  Directly following these events, there is to be a roundtable discussion on social exclusion and the role of football.   

Of those to be in attendance inlcude María Elena Carballo, minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, Voker Fink, the German ambassador, Leonardo Garnier, minister of Educación Pública,  Mayela Coto, vice minister of Justicia, and players Reynaldo Parks and José Francisco Sticks.   

Surf tournament will be in Tamarindo this weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Circuito Nacional de Surf will be moving to Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Saturday and Sunday and for the first time will be featuring competitors from all of the divisions.  Organizers are anticipating big waves at the Pacific beach.

Registration for the circuit costs 6,000 colons ($11.50) and will be available at the High Tide Surf Shop, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday.
Organizers have also planned a series of events that began Tuesday with the opening of the 2006 OP Tamarindo Music Fest.  Other dates for the music festival include Reggae Nights at Babylon Discotheque tonight, Industry Welcome Party in La Barra Friday, and the Surf Party Saturday which is also at Babylon. 

All of the events are to begin at 9 p.m. and will be featuring various DJs. Finally, the third competition of Miss Chica Surf will take place on Sunday following the surf competition.

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