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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Dec. 15, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 249        E-mail us    
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Instituto Costarricense de Turismo photo
Just as in dozens of warehouses all over San José, the carroza or float of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo takes shape in Pavas. As expected, sustainable tourism is the theme, and there are larger-than-life examples of the creatures that inhabit the forests, jungles and waters of Costa Rica. Artist Roy Rodríguez is
again in charge this year supervising a team of 25. Among the figures is a replica of the Iglesia de Palmares and the Guanacasta sabanero. The Festival de la Luz is supposed to step off at 7 p.m. Saturday from Parque La Sabana, but there is a daylight parade of school bands and other attractions beginning there at 3 p.m. 


Northern border crossing clogged worse than usual
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new system set up by customs officials is combining with the seasonal rush north to cause delays for travelers trying to leave and enter the country at Peñas Blancas, the main border point with Nicaragua.

One reader reported that she was in line awaiting customs and immigration clearance for five hours before she gave up and returned home.

The Dirección General de Aduana, the customs agency, put the TICA system into operation at Peñas Blancas Monday. This is the Tecnología de Información para el Control Aduanero that is supposed to provide electronic oversight to the importation and exportation of goods.

Border officials say that tractor trailers are mixing with tourists and holiday travelers at Peñas Blancas. However, they say that they spend only 30 minutes checking each tractor trailer.
At Paso Canoas on the Panamá border the new electronic customers system has been in effect since Sept. 13, officials there said. So they say that the line of trucks awaiting clearance to leave the country is no longer than five vehicles.

The reader who tried to leave the country this week said that the line of vehicles in Peñas Blancas was three to four kilometers long. She called the situation "hellish."

The customs division has been slow in getting the TICA system into operation. The plan was to put the system in operation at Peñas Blancas in April and in Paso Canoas in May.

Each year hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan residents in Costa Rica return to their homeland for the Christmas season.  And they return around New Year's. So the northern border point always is crowded then. But the addition of the new customers system seems to have introduced another series of delays this year.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday Dec. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 249  

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U.S. citizen in Tilarán held
as operator of pot farm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested a 65-year-old U.S. citizen Wednesday and said he ran a hydroponic marijuana-growing operation on property in Tronadora de Tilarán Guanacaste.

The man who was named by police as the accused, Nick Charles D'amico, maintained four trucking containers for the production of the illegal substance: one for production, one for growing, another for drying and packaging, and the final area for storage, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Most of the confiscated plants measured approximately 1.4 meters (4.5 feet) in height and were carried away with lights, planters, fans, seed, plant stems, an electric controller and other high-tech materials from the setup. 

Also found was ammunition for a .357-caliber magnum revolver in the man's home, agents said.

The containers were separate from the house and surrounded with a fence.

The accused was  not at his home in Tronadora de Tilarán when investigators arrived. Fuerza Pública officers arrested him on the highway about 5:30 p.m. as he traveled though la Sierra de Abangares 

Police were tipped off after a drop in his monthly electric bill, said a Judicial Investigating Organization release.  Someone tampered with the electric meter on the D'amico property to bypass it, investigators said experts from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad told them.

At one point the electric bill was 600,000 a month, some $1,150, but then it dipped, they said.


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, Friday, Dec. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 249  







A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
There is a little creativity in Christmas at Hospital la Católica in Guadalupe. Instead of a traditional tree, staffers have constructed two with a metal framework
and potted poinsettias. Each tree, in both the front and back lobbies, are about 11 feet tall (3.5 meters). Interior is at right. Each plant has its own pot.


Not yet into the Cristmas spirit, thoughts turn to slang
Another Christmas season is upon us, bearing down with a relentless energy that seems to get more manic in the city each year.  In some barrios road rage is vying with Christmas cheer to take control.  I dread to think how many new cars will be under the tree for new drivers this year.

If I am already sounding like a Christmas Grinch, it is because so far my December window shopping seems to be confined to looking at the colorful ads in the newspapers as I sit in hospital beds. So far, the highlight of my month is having the cast removed from my arm and beginning the eye-crossingly painful physical therapy.  I have found the definition of torture.

I also found, between the pages of a magazine someone gave me, some sheets of paper with Tico slang words or idioms. Spanish speaking countries don’t speak the same Spanish, and certainly don’t have the same slang. 

Learning the slang of different languages seemed to be the big past time at the International House when students first arrived.  Of course, some words slipped in without the accurate definitions and I learned not to raise my eyebrows during a pleasant little conversation with a prim and proper Japanese student when suddenly with the same innocent face she uttered a raunchy word more appropriate for a brothel. 

This too is to forewarn you that I can only hope that these are the real definitions. They look pretty innocent to me – more like helpful idioms. [Editor's note: They're correct.]

Que perez – how boring!
Chusma – trashy people
¡Que cascara! – a man with no morals
¡Que bruto! – a man with bad manners 
Mocoso – a brat  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


Para quebrar la cabeza – having to think hard (One of
       my favorite passtimes is jigsaw puzzles which are
       called rompecabezas, or head breakers.)
Metiche – a person who meddles
No me alcanza – I don’t have enough money to buy it. Comelón – a person who eats a lot.
Chapulín – a juvenile delinquent
Goma or recasa – hangover
Que manera!  What style!
Tiene toque – He’s got talent
Rajado – broke/ no money
Estamos jalando – we’re going steady
Porqueria – a mess
Media naranja – my soulmate
¿Estas rajando?  Are you bragging?
Mamacita – a sexy woman

And that is your lesson for today.  I have high hopes that before the month is out I will feel in a more festive mood. All around me there are parties and holiday activities.  With my recently broken wrist I am just not up to them, about the most I can do is try not to break my head with one of my jigsaw puzzles.
                    —
(Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A good Life in Costa Rica,” is available through 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional or contact Stuart at jostuart@amcostarica.com.)



Environmental impact of blaze becomes No. 1 concern
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now that a spectacular chemical fire in Moín has been controlled, officials are trying to see if the area is on the verge of an environmental disaster.

At the very least, the water supply had been affected. At least 30 percent of the water for the Limón area has been lost due to chemical pollution of the source. An estimated 20,000 persons are being supplied by tanker trucks, according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

Officials from the company, Químicos Holanda de Costa Rica S.A., were in Limón Thursday and promised to help in the cleanup, said the commission.

A major concern is the fallout from the heavy toxic smoke that fed on hundreds of tons of volatile chemicals. As those who were evacated because of the fire returned home, commission officials were urging them to wash down their
homes and clothes to eliminate any chemical residue.

The environmental survey planned for the next few days will include agricultural land within a 10-mile radius of the plant. Some chemicals are believed to have leaked into nearby inlets resulting in the deaths of fish.

The bulk of the liquid chemicals were various types of hydrocarbons, and much did not burn fully.

Meanwhile the Instituto Nacional de Seguros and the Cuerpo de Bomberos was conducting an investigation of the cause of the fire. Surprisingly, the remains of soldering equipment was found near the origin of the blaze.

Químicos Holanda said Thursday that contrary to early reports, none of its employees was missing. However, one, Giovanni Hernández Montoya, died at Hospital México.

Two other burned workers are in critical condition in Hosptial San Juan de Dios.






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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 249





An analysis on the news
Despite elections, continuity is the rule in Latin America

By the A.M. Costas Rica wire services

Latin America has seen 12 presidential contests in the last 13 months. Despite the installation of five new leaders, many analysts argue 2006 was more a year of continuity than change in the region.

Since November of last year, nearly 500 million Latin Americans have had their say in a presidential contest. And with a few notable exceptions, voters chose the incumbent, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, or those who had previously held the post.

Peter Hakim is head of the Inter-American Dialogue organization. "Twelve elections: seven of them were won by men who had held the office before," he noted.  "Three were re-elected, and four had been president at an earlier period."

Hakim says that new presidents in Mexico and Chile come from the same parties as their predecessors. Perhaps the most radical transition came in Bolivia last December, where self-proclaimed socialist Evo Morales was swept into power. Nicaragua and Ecuador also elected leftist candidates, but Hakim notes that both have spoken in more moderate terms since entering office.

Above all, he says, democracy is alive and well in Latin America.

"These were elections that were all very competitive. Many of them were won by small percentages. Very participatory. High turn-outs in election after election," he added.

In only one case, Mexico, was there a contested transfer of power. But Hakim says that in several nations, such as Peru, radical populists were defeated by small margins. This, he says, points to a simmering undercurrent of discontent that the region's leadership would do well to pay attention to.

Recent years have seen several left-of-center governments come to power in Latin America, a trend that continued in 2006 with notable exceptions in Colombia and Mexico.

In some cases, relations with the United States have cooled to varying degrees. Guatemala's ambassador in Washington, Guillermo Castillo, says the agenda that had been promoted by hemispheric leaders has failed to address people's basic needs.

"Most of the focus has been on trade and not on the other issues," he said.  "We thought that democratization meant development. And when you have a large percentage of your population that is poor, without food on the table, they question the system. If we do not put this issue in the agenda between Latin America and the U.S., we are not going to advance this agenda."

Philip French, the State Department's Office of Andean Affairs director, does not disagree. He says the United States and Latin America often "talk past each other" when
it comes to promoting the common good.  He says what the United States views as landmark trade pacts often seem distant to the reality perceived by ordinary people.

"When we talk about macro-economics in Peru, that is fine," he said.  "But most of the people there are living in the micro-world where they still do not have enough to eat.  And so we are looking at ways to bring those two worlds together in a pragmatic way."

French adds that the United States is ready to engage any democratically elected government in the region, regardless of ideology.

But the Inter-American Dialogue's Michael Shifter says relations have soured due to a variety of factors ranging from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to the ongoing immigration debate in the United States. He says those relations can be repaired, but that Washington must adjust to a new reality in Latin America.

"Things can get better with a different administration," he said.  "I think we have gone through a very rough period. At the same time, I think there is a fundamental change that any new administration will face. Latin America is growing up, has more options internationally. It is no longer the backyard of the United States. And I think no matter what administration comes in office, it is going to have to deal with that adjustment."

For many Latin American nations, however, the United States remains an indispensable and much-valued partner, according to Honduras' ambassador in Washington, Roberto Flores-Bermudez.

"The U.S. definitely represents the biggest market in the world, and the most convenient one for a country like Honduras and other Central American countries," he noted.  "We are right across the Gulf of Mexico. The capital of my country is closer to Washington than is San Francisco. So for us it [the United States] is a highly important market, and we are looking with optimism to make the best out of CAFTA."

2005 saw the ratification of CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Over the last year, the Bush administration has signed bilateral trade pacts with Peru and Colombia.

What might 2007 have in store for the hemisphere? The Inter-American Dialogue's Hakim says news from Cuba could dominate.

"Clearly, the transition is under way. The chances that Fidel Castro will ever occupy the presidency again look very slim right now," he said.  "His death will bring about some changes. We just do not know what the interplay of forces are within the leadership group, and how that plays out."

Hakim says new Cuban leadership could force a re-examination of long-standing U.S. policy.


Chiquita says that the financial trend still is positive despite weather problems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chiquita Brands International Inc., an international corporation with major holdings in Costa Rica, posted its interim price and volume report for this year's fourth quarter.

Chiquita currently has three divisions operating in Costa Rica which are all related to its banana production, the commodity for which they are best known.  Bananas account for 21 percent of Costa Rica's total yearly export.  

Income for Chiquita's banana production continued its positive trend, although at a more moderate rate, the report said.  Banana volume sold in the region was moderate, as the company recovered from weather-related disruptions that hurt the supply since late 2005, it said.
Banana prices in the company's core European markets improved from the third quarter, as the negative impact from hot summer weather and excess supply subsided, according to the interim report. However, the company said that pricing remained down compared to previous years, primarily due to the European Union's regulatory changes, which have resulted in an increase in industry volume and price competition.

Cincinnati, Ohio,-based Chiquita employs approximately 6,330 people in Costa Rica and injects an estimated $200 million dollars into the national economy.  Company divisions located here include Compañía Bananera Atlantica, Lida. located in Sarapiqúi, Guápiles, Siquirres, and Limón; Compañia Mundimar, S.A., located in Guácimo, Limón; and Polymer de Costa Rica, S.A, a plastic factory with two locations in San José. 


Turner Broadcasting expands its holdings of Latin American television channels
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a company of Time Warner, has arrived at a $253 millon agreement with the Claxson Interactive Group Inc. to acquire seven pay television channels that are currently operating in Latin America, and that will now be operated by TBS Latin America, the company said.

The announcement was made by Phil I. Kent, president and CEO of TBS, Inc., and Roberto Vivo-Chaneton, president and CEO of Claxson.  The channels included in the purchase are Fashion TV, HTV, Infinito, I.Sat, MuchMusic, Retro and Space. It is estimated that the
networks reach a combined 51 million people throughout Latin America.

Other Turner Broadcasting Inc. stations in the area include CNN International, TNT, the Cartoon Network, CNN in Spanish, Boomerang and TCM Classic Hollywood. 

The transaction with Claxson will give Turner Broadcasting 13 wholly owned TV networks and 10 other represented networks.

As part of the recent negociations, they will also receive the representation rights for other Claxon television channels, as well as some third-party owned property.


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