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(506) 223-1327     Published Friday, Dec. 16, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 249          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A good batch of tamales starts with a load of banana leaves

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those big sheets of green stuff expats see at the various markets are shortly to be transformed into the leading Christmas dish, a tamal.

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.

Local cooks report that the banana leaves have not increased in price this year the way other products have. They are still about 250 colons a kilo. But you need a bunch because each tamal requires several layers.

The tamales are tied with string after being folded into a leaf, and that is what holds everything in place.

The photo here was taken Thursday at the Mercado Central in San Jose.

Congressmen coming to push trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A high-level U.S. congressional group is coming to San José to meet with Costa Rican lawmakers who are considering the free trade treaty.

U.S. Embassy employees here have not mentioned this fact, but the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Internacionales y Comercio Exterior of the Asamblea Legislative has scheduled a meeting for Monday afternoon.

Some of the congressmen are heavy hitters. One,  Roy D. Blunt, a Missouri Republican, is the acting majority leader of the U.S. House. That means he is the No. 2 man for the majority party.  Another, Mark A. Foley, a Florida Republican, is a deputy majority whip.

Also coming is  K. Michael Conaway, a long-time friend of U.S. President George Bush and the former chief financial officer for Bush Exploration. He is a Texas Republican.

At least two visitors are likely to be fluent Spanish speakers. They are Rubén Hinojosa and Solomón Ortiz, both Texas Republicans.

Returning after a similar visit in April is Gregory W.  Meeks, a New York Democrat. When he was here, Meeks was uncertain about the free trade treaty between Central America and the United States. But in a statement after the July 27 vote, Meeks said he had been convinced in part by President Abel Pacheco and the presidents of other Central American nations.

"As I considered the merits of DR-CAFTA for the Central American region I met with Presidents from Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador," Meeks said, using the
initials of the pact.  "Each of these democratically elected presidents urged me to vote for this agreement because it will promote opportunity and growth and support long term development efforts in their respective countries."

The trade agreement passed in the U.S. House by a single vote, 217 to 215. At the time Pacheco had adopted a neutral public stance.

Also in the delegation are Dennis Moore, a Democrat from Kansas, and Lynn A. Westmoreland, a first-term congressman and a Republican from Georgia.

Blunt, a five-term congressman, became majority leader in September when the then-majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas was indicted in a campaign scandal.

In addition to Costa Rica, the free trade agreement covers the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. All but Costa Rica has ratified the pact, and it goes into effect Jan. 1.

Pacheco delayed sending the agreement to the legislature partly out of concern for violent protests from those who think they will be affected negatively, such as employees at the state telecommunications monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The visiting congressmen are likely to repeat what the similar delegation said in April: The decision here on the trade agreement is not very important for the United States but very important for Costa Rica, which risks being marginalized as a trading partner.

The Bush administration sees the trade pact as a building block for a similar agreement that would cover the hemisphere.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 16, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 249

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Fuel prices are taking
another slight dip

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos approved a drop in gas prices Thursday. 

Conditions in the international market have allowed the public service authority to drop prices in nine products sold by the government monopoly Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, the authority said.  One of the reasons the authority was able to drop gas prices was the diminishing use of cars by Costa Ricans.  The use of super dropped 4.31 percent.  Regular gasoline dropped 4.29 percent and diesel dropped 6.48 percent, the authority said. 

As prices now stand, super gasoline will cost 422 colons (85 U.S. cents) per liter.  It used to cost 441 (89 cents).  Regular will cost 402 colons (81 cents), down from 420 colons (85 cents) and diesel will drop to 303 colons (61 cents), down from 324 colons (65 cents), the authority said.  That's approximately $3.07 per U.S. gallon.   

Country will borrow
to get road repair cash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry is going to issue bonds to get the funds to repair the nation's roads. The ministry said Thursday that an agreement has been reached with Banco Nacional, and the deal will be signed today at 3 p.m.

The issuance of bonds will let the road building authority  the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad repair and construct the roads in a much shorter time than would be possible using another system, said the agency, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

A problem for the ministry is that Costa Rica is spending much more each year than it takes in. President Abel Pacheco has banked heavily on the Asamblea Legislativa passing a massive $500 million tax plan, but lawmakers left for vacation Thursday without taking action, and the fate of the proposal still is uncertain.

Costa Rica already is borrowing each year to meet current expenses. The transport ministry and the consejo have at least 28 billion colons or some $56.5 million in storm damage to fix.

Our readers' opinions

Concern on Arenal road
centers on tourism

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have read with interest the recent letters of complaints regarding the condition of roads throughout Costa Rica. My wife and I are expats living in this beautiful country for the past four years. We are very active in the Asociación de Desarrollo de la Cuenca Arenal, membership of which consist of owners of large Hotels, mayors of various citites in the area and concerned citizens, both Tico and expats.

The asociación goals are the enhancement of tourism in the area of Tilaran to Fortuna, and one of the major concerns and projects is the improvement of route 142, Tilaran-Fortuna, the most traveled tourist route in the entire country. This has been an ongoing battle, dating back 13 years, with government officals and there lack of concern for the roads.

A lot of the blame has been placed on the current president, rightfully so, but this problem goes back a lot farther and is deeply rooted in mismanagement of monies, poorly supervised work, and the awarding of sweetheart contracts to companies that are not willing or capable to do the work correctly.

Funds collected for roads never reach the roads and even with Sala IV directives to release funds for the roads, somehow those in power turn a deaf ear to the courts and the public as well.

As long as this country continues on its present path of political infighting and a total disregard for the people of the country then nothing will change. Oh, yes from time to time they will, as they have in the past, come in and throw a lilttle gravel in the holes and disappear. The only solution is for the people to rise up in anger and block the roads thorughout the entire country to force the government to act.

We all suffer, tourist and locals alike, but the tourists have a choice, and they will refuse to come as time passes. Tourism runs in cycles, and when the travel agencies decide to start pushing another country, and they will, just ask the prople of Puerto Rica, Jamaica, and Hawaii.
Ed Parker
Al Aguacate
Things won't change

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I  have lived in CR for less than four years after visiting many times since 1995. The letters about roads forget to take into account the two concepts that do not exist in CR — efficiency and common sense. It is cultural and will never change, while Pura Vida is used for an excuse.

Sam Dillon
Repair crews are fixing
roads in Guanacaste

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Having just read the letter to the editor from Cray Palmer regarding the roads in Guanacaste, I would to like to add that they are presently fixing them! On the start date that was announced in November, the road crews were out in force on the Bagaces-Guayabo road, which was in terrible condition after the unseasonal rains in September and October this year.

Many of the worst potholes have been filled, and long stretches repaved on the Interamericana from San José to Liberia. Of course, many still remain. It is taking a long time . . . but they are working on it! I don’t have any information regarding the roads to the beaches.
Patricia Nethercote
Guayabo de Bagaces
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Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 16, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 249

This month is the high season for parties, too
First, my thanks to Ralph and Richard and Kent for their suggestions regarding my computer; and also thanks to Sandy and Carlos. I am back on line and this time via cable — just in time to read those Holiday missives, because . . .

This is the time of year when many people send holiday letters to friends and family to inform them of what has happened to them and theirs during the past year.  I have never done that.  Over the past several years I have kept my little world of friends and family and unmet friends aware of my doings by the running account of my year through my columns.

So they know it has been, to use a well-worn but useful phrase by Charles Dickens, “the best of times and the worst of times.” Speaking of Dickens, he probably wrote the definitive story about Christmas.  A close second would be O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”  I suppose if we all could learn from those two stories, the world would be in better shape than it is. 

December is a very active month in Costa Rica.  There are the parades — the latest being the Parade of Lights that lit up, crowded and paralyzed the city for a number of hours as floats of all kinds — some quite bizarre — made their cautious way down Paseo Colon and Avenida Segunda.  I was downtown at the time, trying to see the parade, but the pack of people was so dense I gave it up, returned home via taxi and watched it on TV for the rest of the evening.  There will be more to come — the Tope on the 26th and then the Carnival parade.  

December is also the month of aguinaldos, the bonuses of a month’s pay for most workers, so the stores are packed with people spending their windfalls.  And December is the month when everyone goes to the beach, leaving San José a ghost town between Christmas and New Year, with few restaurants and almost no public buildings open.

Not so, the rest of Costa Rica, because December is the beginning and height of the “high season.”  It is 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

also the month when those expats who don’t go back to their home countries to celebrate the holidays, have parties.  Or their families and friends come to visit them, and they have parties.  This does not bring me unmitigated joy.  I do like contrasts, but feast in December and famine the rest of the year, when it comes to social events doesn’t particularly please me.  There are all those other perfectly good months available to celebrate something or other.  Now that I have an apartment that can handle entertaining, I will do something about that next year.  This is not a New Year’s resolution, something else many people do this month in preparation for the New Year.
December is also the month that my chocolate sauce business booms. (Although it doesn’t sound it, “boom” is a very relative term.) Nevertheless, December is a hectic month for me.

Thinking back to Dickens, I fondly recall some words that became part of the language:  “Bah, humbug.”  And “Scrooge”—  one who spoils Christmas.  Just recently on TV I heard someone say, “I don’t want to be the Grinch of Christmas.”  So obviously, Dr. Seuss has replaced Dickens. 

Some time ago I wrote a column about phrases and words that have become mind-numbingly popular (like “24-7” and “absolutely”).  A phrase that has become hackneyed and I hope will die with the end of this year is “perfect storm.”  Although now that I think of it, I guess the December that I have been describing could be called a perfect storm.  Let me get a jump on next year’s most popular words.  Instead let me say, December is a King Kong of a month.”

A list of restaurants recommended by readers
Thank you readers for your input in 2005.
Below is a list of restaurants, grouped alphabetically according to and within each category. You, the readers of A.M. Costa Rica, have recommended them to me in the past year. I have limited each category to a maximum of 10 places.

Thank you so much for the information and opinions. You deserve to share in the accolades this column has received. The majority of your e-mails to A.M. Costa  Rica and to me have been most flattering and supportive.

I have tried and enjoyed more than half the restaurants listed and have price or service issues with just a few, but include them because at least some of you have enjoyed them and the food has been decent to extraordinary. Some of them, like my favorite seafood restaurant, De L’Ola del Mar, may have closed since the last visit.
Alphabetically listed

Best restaurant of any kind:

Bacchus (Santa Ana)
Bakea (San José – Barrio Amón)
Cerutti (Escazú)
Da Marco (Piadades)
El Grano De Oro (San José)
Jurgen’s (San Jose – Los Yoses)
La Pecora Nera (Puerto Viejo)
L’Ile de France (San José – Los Yoses)
Taj Mahal (Santa Ana)
Tin Jo (San José)
Best Caribbean:

Casa Creole (Cahuita)
Delicias Caribenas de Mami (Heredia)
Maxi’s (Manzanillo)
Miss Edith’s (Cahuita)
Whapin’ (San José – Los Yoses)
Best Chinese:

Casa China (San José)
Chef Oriental (Moravia)
Don Wang (San José)
Flor de Loto (San José)
King’s Garden (San José)
Lotus (Escazú)
Restaurante Villa Bonita (Rohrmoser)
Tin Jo (San José)
Best Costa Rican:

Casa Vieja (Cartago)
Don Rufino (San Carlos)
El Chicote (San José – Sabana Norte)
El Stablo (Ciudad Colón)
Hacienda El Estribo (Santa Ana)
Los Anonos (Escazú)
Restaurante La Galeria (Monteverde)
Best French:

Colbert (Vara Blanca)
La Caravelle (Puntarenas)
Le Chandelier (San Pedro)
Le Monastere (Escazú)
L’ Isle de France (San José – Los Yoses)
L’Olivier (Nosara)
Restaurant Les Arcades (Playa Flamingo)
Voulez Vous (San José)
Best German:

Casa Bavaria (Alajuela)
Hamburgo (San José – Los Yoses)
Willy’s Caballo Negro (Arenal)
Best Gringo Bar and Grill:

Big Dog’s (Santa Ana and Escazú)
Mac’s  (San José – Sabana Sur)
News Café (San José)
Rock and Roll Pollo (Santa Ana)
The Hook Up (Playa Herradura)
The Pub (Escazú)
Best International:

Bakea (San José – Barrio Amón)
Bistro Rouge (San José)
Ginger (Playa Hermosa)
Jurgen’s (San José – Los Yoses)
La Luz (Santa Ana)
Lazy Wave (Tamarindo)
Nectar (Playa Santa Teresa)
Restaurante Oasis (San José)
Sunspot Grill (Quepos)
Xandari (Alajuela)
Best Italian:

Andiamo’la  (Curridabat)
Cerutti (Escazú)
Da Marco (Piedades)
Di Bartolo Guachipelin)
Il Pomodoro (Escazú)
Il Ritorno (San José - Barrio Escalante)
La Pecora Nera (Puerto Viejo)
La Piazzetta (San José - Paseo Colon)
Mangiamo (Santa Ana)
Sale e Pepe (Escazú)
Best Japanese:
Fuji (San José – Sabana Norte)
Matsuri (Curridabat and Santa Ana)
Samurai (Escazú and Santa Ana)
Sakura (Alajuela, Hotel Herradura)
Shogun (Santa Ana)
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


Best Korean:

Little Seoul (Rohrmoser)
Saisaki (San José)
Satto (San Jose – Paseo Colón)
Victoria (San Antonio de Belén)
Best Lunchtime Deli or Café:

Bagelman’s (Escazú and San Pedro)
Café  Torino (Escazú)
New York Deli (Pavas)
Te Con Te (Escazú)
Wall Street (Escazú and Santa Ana)
Best Mexican:

Chipotle (Moravia)
El Fogoncito (Rohrmoser)
Huaraches (La Garita, San Antonio de Belén and San  
Jalapeños (Atenas)
Jalapeños Central (Alajuela)
Tequila Bar & Grill (Las Playas del Coco)
Best Middle Eastern or North African:

Al Muluk (San Pedro)
Beirut (San José)
La Mamounia (San Pedro)
Lubnan (San José – Paseo Colón)
Restaurant Beirut (San José – Sabana Norte)
Best Nuevo Latino

El Coconut (Playa Tamarindo)
El Patio Bistro Latino (Quepos)
Nuevo Latino (Playa Herradura)
Papagayo (Papagayo)
Restaurante Tipico Neo-Latino (La Fortuna)
Sofia, Nuevo Latino (Monteverde)

Best Pan Asian:

Tin Jo (San José)
Poco a Poco (Monteverde)
Saisaki (San José)
Best Peruvian:

Bohemia (San José – Barrio Escalante)
Chancay (Escazú – Plaza Itzkazu))
Inka Grill (Curridabat & Escazú)
Macchu Pichu (San José & San Pedro) 
Best Pizza:

Bacchus (Santa Ana)
Il Pomodoro (Escazú and San Pedro)
Pan e Vino (Chain)
Sale e Pepe (Escazú)
Tutti Li (Escazú – Plaza Itzkazu)
Best Seafrood:

Banco de Mariscos (Santa Barbara de Heredia)
Casa Creole (Cahuita)
Cha Cha Cha (Cahuita)
El Galleon (Playa Herradura)
El Pelicanjo (Playa Herradura)
La Fuenete de Los Mariscos (San José – La Uruca)
Louisiana Bar & Grill (Playas del Coco)
Mar Luna (Quepos)
Restaurant Camaron Dorado (Playa Brasilito)
Best Spanish:

Casa Luisa (San José – Sabana Sur)
La Isabela (Alajuela)
La Lluna de Valencia (San Pedro de Barva de Heredia)
La Masia (San José – Sabana Norte)
Sancho Panza (Alajuela)
Best Steakhouse:

A Churrascaria Brasileira (San Antonio de Belén)
Donde Carlos (San José – Los Yoses)
El Rodeo (San Antonio de Belén)
El Stable (Ciudad Colón)
La Cascada (Escazú)
La Esquina de Buenos Aires (San José)
Best Tex Mex:

Jalapeños Central (Alajuela)
Rico Tico (Quepos)
San Clemente Bar and Grill (Dominical)
Santa Ana’s Tex Mex (Santa Ana)
Tequila Tex Mex Café (Santa Ana)
Best Vegetarian:

Earthly Delights (Ciudad Colón)
Shakti (San José)
Vishnu (San José and Heredia)

A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

Home Calendar Place a 
classified ad
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 16, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 249

Bolivia's Morales headed coca federation
Washington mulls how to cope with coke candidate
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States said Thursday it expects the next government in Bolivia to continue anti-drug efforts, and if not it will evaluate relations with La Paz. The leading candidate in Sunday's Bolivian presidential election, Evo Morales, is a proponent of legalizing cultivation of coca, the raw material for cocaine.
The Bush administration has taken a low public profile with regard to the Bolivian election race, despite the publicity surrounding Morales, a one-time leader of the country's coca growers federation who is considered the front-runner in Sunday's election.

But it is suggesting that it might reconsider the United States' long-standing close relationship with the La Paz government if Morales wins and follows through with a campaign pledge to, at least, partially legalize the coca industry.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States hopes the election takes place free from violence, so that the Bolivian people will be able to decide through the ballot box who is best equipped to lead the South American country forward after a period of political unrest.

Questioned about Morales' platform with regard to coca-growing, McCormack said the United States supports Bolivia's long-standing counter-narcotics policy and would expect whatever government that comes next to honor commitments made to fight against the production and transport of illegal drugs.

Without specifically mentioning Morales or his platform, the spokesman said the United States would have to evaluate its relationship with a government that would not continue an anti-drug stance.

"We'll see what the outcomes of the elections are," he said.  "But certainly the quality, the depth, the breadth, of any relationship with the United States will depend upon the intersection of our common
interests. So we'll see, first of all who's elected, what policies that person pursues, and based on that we'll make an evaluation of what kind of relationship we're going to have with that state."

The latest newspaper opinion polls in Bolivia indicate that Morales, a leftist politician of Indian descent, has a lead of several percentage points over conservative former president Jorge Quiroga in a multi-candidate race.

Indian highlanders in Bolivia and neighboring countries have chewed unprocessed coca leaves for generations to mitigate hunger and increase stamina.

Morales has said that as president, he would allow such usage to continue and also allow the industrial use of coca products for such as pharmaceuticals, toothpaste and beverages.

But drug control experts say most coca grown in Bolivia ends up being processed into cocaine for illegal export, and that production in the country has gone up sharply lately in anticipation of a more tolerant government policy.

U.S. officials have also expressed concern about Morales' close ties with Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chavez, and have said Chavez may have helped foment political unrest in Bolivia that has driven two presidents from office since 2003.

McCormack said the United States has raised questions about Chavez' motives and activities.

He said assistance to the region's struggling democracies should be transparent, and that the United States would urge Chavez to join in a positive agenda for the hemisphere that reinforces democracy, good governance and open markets.

Both Morales and the Venezuelan leader strongly oppose economic globalization and the hemispheric free-trade zone championed by the United States.

U.S. food aid to poor countries becomes issue at Hong Kong trade talks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States sends huge amounts of its surplus food to less developed countries suffering from hunger. But this is now the subject of a trade dispute at global talks in Hong Kong. European officials say the program is more about promoting U.S. products than solving world hunger — an argument that is one of many blocking the way on how to implement a global deal on freer trade.

European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson says the United States needs to make some changes in its food aid policy. "It distorts trade and depresses local production," he said. "A radical reform of U.S. food aid, therefore, is an essential part of any agreement we may reach in this round."

Mandelson and other European officials are using this week's World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong to criticize U.S. direct surplus food donations.

Mariann Fischer Boel, European Union agriculture commissioner, said the sheer amount of U.S. food arriving in poor countries hurts more than it helps in that it pushes local producers out of business. "20 percent of the U.S. wheat production is exported as food aid, and more than 50 percent of the skim milk powder," he said. "And this is of course influencing the whole world market, that is obvious."

At the heart of the Europeans' complaint is that the food ends up not as just a donation to the desperately hungry but can be diverted for sale, lowering market prices.

The European Union began providing food aid in the form of cash only more than a year ago, and wants Washington to follow suit.

But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman says the Europeans are blowing this out of proportion as U.S. aid only amounts to about 1 percent of global food trade. "I sense a sort of European obsession right now with cash-only in food aid," he said.

"Does the United States think we should deal with the commercial displacement issue? Absolutely. But
this sort of obsession with 'how do we stop food aid' seems to me to be a little bit misplaced."

U.S. negotiators say the European Union is emphasizing food aid to deflect attention from broad criticism of huge European subsidies to its farmers that block market access for much of the developing world.

Developing countries like Brazil say they need to see a better offer on European agriculture if this week's World Trade Organization Meeting is to progress.

Jo Stuart
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