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(506) 223-1327         Published Monday, Dec. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 249               E-mail us
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confetti throwers
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
That's not snow!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite orders from the municipality, confetti came down like a blizzard Saturday night all over the downtown. The reason was the crowds drawn by the Festival de la Luz parade.

Families began gathering at 2 p.m. along the streets. That was about six hours before they could expect to see the floats and bands. A sometimes heavy rain doused the crowd, but precipitation let up by parade time.

The young men at left are taking advantage of the otherwise occupied police to drink beer and throw confetti.  About an hour after this shot was taken, youth gangs confronted each other in the heart of the downtown, the Plaza de la Cultura, and three people suffered bullet wounds.



An analysis of the news
Tributación is unlikely to stop at beach concessions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The local Costa Rican tax collectors have been getting lessons from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and the sweeping reevaluations of Pacific concession property is just the first step.

Concession holders have been shocked by their tax bill that reflects values that are keyed to the million dollar deals that have been frequent on the coast. But homeowners who have title to their property and do not live or operate from a concession should not be too smug. Conventional real estate has soared in value, too, and Tributación, the tax collecting agency within the Ministerio de Hacienda, will not ignore this.

An Arias administration proposal would levy an additional escalating tax on so-called luxury homes, those worth more than $200,000. But the measure, which still is in the legislative hopper, requires homeowners to provide a market-value appraisal of their property. Then homeowners are supposed to do so again every three years. Tax officials hope to bring in an addition amount up to perhaps $56 million.

This extra tax, over and above the traditional 2,500 colons for every 1 million in value, would be used to replace slums.

The U.S. Treasury Department started working with the Costa Rican tax authorities in 2005. The following year, the United States invested $400,000 in technical assistance in tax collecting. The agency said that Tributación brought in an amount in 2006 that is 279 percent greater than in 2005.

In August a Virginia firm reported it has won a $20 million contract to modernize the tax-collecting system here in Costa Rica. The firm is BearingPoint, Inc.

The project is scheduled to take two years. The new system is anticipated to allow Tributación to improve revenue flow through more efficient collection of taxes, help reduce the amount of tax fraud and allow Costa Rican citizens to access their tax records electronically, BearingPoint said in a news release.
This suggests that the re-evaluations on the Pacific represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Until now Tributación was flooded with forms from citizens and only a fraction could be reviewed. In addition, the agency has to sign off on real estate values when there is a transfer.

These values generally are much lower than the actual transaction. Even the wife of Johnny Araya, mayor of San José, and other politically connected individuals admitted to filing false data "for fiscal reasons" in a recent court case.

Until now Tributación had no real way to check the values, but with mandatory self-reporting of values and the agency's own work extensive data bases are being created that can double check the numbers provided by notaries and lawyers.

This means higher taxes for some, but the result also will be to help buyers and sellers negotiate a fair market price. Right now hardly anyone really knows what properties are worth.

Value generally is defined as the price arrived at by a willing buyer and a willing seller with neither being under undue compulsion. This was the definition that appraisal experts used when they just reevaluated more than 500 concession properties in Guanacaste and the Pacific coast. They did not say how they got these values, but local real estate brokers probably helped considerably.

According to the law governing concessions, these values are secret. It is reasonable to suspect that some effort will be made to open up the records of value if individuals are going to be required to make their own appraisal.

Concessions are like a long-term lease and they involved land between 50 meters and 200 meters beyond mean high tide in coastal areas and along waterways.

They are granted to corporations and individuals by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the local municipality. Strictly speaking, the payments to municipalities, the amount that is soaring, are lease payments, but many persons refer to the money as taxes.


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3437-4/1/08
Nation was on edge of seat
as winning ticket determined


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the official A.M. Costa Rica lottery ticket bore the series 598 with the number 61 Sunday night, you would not be reading this.

Alas, the newsroom's ticket with 029-35 never even came close. So Sunday night and Monday are just other work days.

That is not so for the five persons or the five groups of persons who have one of the five winning tickets. The lottery ticket can be cut up into 40 pieces, each worth about 13.5 million colons or $27,000. A full winning lottery ticket, an entero, is worth 540 million colons or $1,080,000.

The Junta de Protección Social de San José, which directs the lottery, put on another good show Sunday night from Cartago. Three men spun metal baskets. One contains balls representing the series, The other contained balls representing the numbers. And the third contained balls representing the prize.

The winning combination did not appear until nearly an hour into the event and after most of the other prizes had been awarded. There are 80 prizes of 500,000 colons, or $1,000, 30 prizes of 800,000 of $1.600, 10 of 1 million colons (about $2,000) and one each of 20 million ($40,000) and 35 million ($70,000).

But that is not all. Anyone with the same ticket number or the same series number as the grand prize winner also get cash, as do those with the same series and a ticket number one higher or one lower than the winner.

The crowd at the lottery event had to endure moments of heavy rain, and even the men spinning the basket got wet. The lottery, el Gordo, is a Christmas tradition and was televised all over the country.

During the next week winners will identify themselves as they visit Junta officers to collect their winnings. In past years, whole communities shared one winning ticket.

Winners have 70 days to claim their prize.

The Junta distributes the lottery proceeds to a number of charitable organizations.


Tourist police are among
those graduating today


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The graduation of a class of police officers and tourism police will to be celebrated at 8 a.m. today in a joint event with the inauguration of a new specialized motor unit and new facilities in Pavas.

Police officers who received basic training, motor and radio-patrol officers, executive security officials, and tourism police are all expected to receive their graduation certificates today.

President Oscar Arias Sánchez is planned to speak at the event after the new officers and security officials receive their certificates. San José Mayor Johnny Araya Monge and Fernando Berrocal Soto. minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, are also planned to speak.

New communication and mobile equipment for the tourism police will be put into service according to the ministry. The equipment will better serve this body of police and help them protect tourists and foreigners, said the ministry. 

Before the event, Berrocal will sign an agreement with Miguel Carabaguíaz, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles. The railway institute is running a passenger train daily from Pavas to San Pedro and returns during peak hours. This event will be on board a train headed to Pavas from the Estación del Pacifico in San José.


Three-year investigation
nets man on pimping charge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a three-year investigation, a man was arrested to face the allegation that he was  pimping boys, as young as 13, according to judicial officials.

Investigators detained the man who has the last names Sánchez Chaves in a San José motel Thursday night. He was being investigated by the Fiscalía Especializada de Delitos Sexuales and Judicial Investigating Organization ever since agents received a tip from Casa Alianza in 2004, investigators said.

Workers at Casa Alianza, an organization that used to help and house at-risk youth, reported that a man was selling the sexual services of both men and boys as young as 13, for 15,000 to 60,000 colons or about $30 to $120, investigators said. Casa Alianza ended its operations in Costa Rica after its executive director was involved in an unrelated sex scandal. Until then, Casa Alianza conducted an aggressive program of investigation.

The youngsters directed by the man were required to maintain sexual relations with clients, according to the Casa Alianza report quoted by judicial officials. The clients would also pay a percentage of their money to the boys or men they had hired, said the report.

The investigation continues in order to identify more of the individuals employed in the sex ring, according to Poder Judicial. The Fiscalia de Delitos Sexuales de San José is requesting three months of preventative prison for Sánchez.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 249


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Norway gives $5 million boost to small cocoa producers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Norway just signed a treaty with a Costa Rican university that seeks to improve the production of cocoa and the lives of thousands of families who grow the crop in Central America.

This news comes from the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center or CATIE, the university heading up the project. The school signed the treaty with the Norwegian government Monday.

CATIE, a school specializing in science and environmental agriculture, describes itself as a teaching grounds for reduction of poverty in Latin America, management of natural resources and sustainable rural development. The university Web page says it has been working with cocoa research, education and development for 63 years. The cocoa bean becomes chocolate with processing.

The agreement entitled Central American Cocoa Project or PCC for its Spanish title, will help more than 6,000 families, most who live below the poverty level, according to CATIE. Eight associations of growers from around Central America will unite in the project as will various universities and research centers, the announcement said.
The 4-and-a-half-year project is estimated at $5-million and will include cocoa growing organizations from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panamá. The two Costa Rican organizations are an association of small producers in Talamanca and an association of Bribri women of Talamanca.

The program is aimed at increasing competitiveness, sharing information, increasing technological innovation, and providing environmental services, said Eduardo Somarriba, head of the cocoa program at CATIE and director of the program.

The project also will seek to obtain organic status for the three cocoa-growing organizations who do not yet have it said Somarriba.

The project supports organic production as a way to access good markets, get better prices, maintain the ecosystem services the cocoa farms and provide and ensure the health and quality of life of producing families and consumers, said Somarriba.

The total monthly income of the farm families participating in the project ranges from $34 to $168, according to CATIE.


Lawmaker becomes robbery victim on the way to special session on treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A leading legislator became a robbery victim Saturday but still managed to show up at a special session called to consider measures linked to the free trade treaty.

But other lawmakers, principally from opposition parties, did not show up and the chamber fell one short of a quorum with just 37 legislators present.

The robbery victim was Mayi Antillón Guerrero, who is
the legislative leader for the government political party, the Partido Liberación Nacional. She became a member of the growing list of indivuals who have had their windows smashed and goods stolen as they stopped their vehicle at a traffic light.

A legislative summary said that she arrived for the afternoon session nervous, concerned and sad.

Lawmakers from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, Frente Amplio and Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión did not show.


Readers give their views on taxes and stolen luggage
He doubts Ticos will let
beach reevaluations stand


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is difficult to say which is more ridiculous: the old tax rates or the new proposed ones!  First off let's get real. This whole area of property taxation has been somewhat bizarre by any standards elsewhere. 

Isn’t it strange that normally the tax bill is calculated on a property value set in 1964 or ???? yet when the property is sold the lawyer collects fees based on the current sale value.  This, in reality, is tax fraud, but no system is in place to monitor or punish such activity. Yet, meanwhile, you have municipalities cash strapped because everyone demands services but damn few want to pay for them.  There has been people living in mansions here who pay the equivalent of a week's groceries for their annual tax bill.  How ridiculous is that? You cannot have your cake and eat it too! 

The fact is the basic tax rate of ¼ percent of the declared value of titled property is set by the national government which has not changed. Now this rate is very low by any standards especially for those of us that come from jurisdictions where the normal is anywhere from 3 percent - 7 percent (that would be 1,200 percent to 2,800 percent higher) charged on a value that is assessed by the government that makes their own appraisals updated every few years to reflect what people have actually been paying for property and most certainly not on an ancient self-assessment taken out of thin air. 

My what a strange concept!!! I do believe that this is pretty much how the system works in all of North America’s first world states, but I would love for someone to prove me wrong. 

Now if you want the services equal to that so called first world then I would submit that someone has to pay for it, and if not the property owner, then who?  Paying taxes based on reasonable market values is not exactly unfair.  Now many of the Central Valley municipalities have been overriding ridiculous values and putting on their own once every five years. However I believe this is quite rare in the rural and beach areas and that, I submit folks, is the main reason the level of services is far better in the valley than especially at the beaches.  Go figure!

Now before we get in a panic here with these new fictitious tax bills being sent out to owners of concession property, let's take a step back into reality.  Yes, owners are upset as they should be for three reasons: too much change too fast,  no existing infrastructure to justify these instant rates and a big doubt that these small rural municipalities can handle that kind of an increase in revenue. 

With that being said, something needs to be changed in this whole system that is reasonable and fair for the municipalities, the property owners and the country as a whole.  This idea of the maximum 5 percent rate would be disastrous to tourism and all beach property values would plummet when one considers the rate just across the road is 2,000 percent less.

What no one has mentioned is the fact that the entirety of all concession land is a minimum of  51% Tico owned as foreigners cannot outright own such.  If anyone thinks that Tico owners will sit around and take ridiculous increases like this sitting down indicates that one is clueless as to what Costa Rica is about or how politics function here in reality. 

There would be a national walk-out before such would happen as there is no way Ticos can or would agree to pay such outrageous increases as these would affect them more severely than expats.   Can you imagine how many of these owners would loose their land and patronage for lack of ability to pay such? Also remember the beaches have not entirely been sold and there is still more property 100 percent Tico owned also including the mayors, diputados and their families. 

Can you imagine how many diputados have been yelled at already over this insane move by government peones!!! The normally passive Tico will not be so when they face loosing their patronage, which is what the Maritime Act was to protect in the first place. 

I do find it somewhat ridiculous when anyone suggests that tax levels here would or could be equal to California this simply can’t and won’t happen at the end of the day.  This is not a new story, and those of us who have lived here for a time know very well this kind of increase will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER come to pass.

Trevor Chilton
Escazu & Jacó property owner


Financial abuse small potatoes
compared to that in U.S.


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A lot of expats think Costa Rica is a tax haven in which to hide money from their own governments, and at the same time avoid or minimize paying taxes to the Tico authorities. Then we cry hysterically when we do get a tax bill, and at the same time whine about the bad roads and other lack of services.

Unfortunately, and just like back home, taxes are the only revenue the government has to keep the country going. Sure some tax money might be misused or stolen. Keeping things in perspective, such abuse here is small potatos compared to the theft in our home countries.

As an example, a few $trillion wasted on a criminal attack on Iraq comes mind.

R. Martin
Villa Nueva de Quepos
Tourist from Denmark finds
there are thieves on buses


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Hi, all you good people in Costa Rica.
 
I have just beening visiting Your country for five weeks. I was supposed to be tourist in Costa Rica in a five-month period. Reason to leave earlier was that I had my luggage stolen in the first 24 hours, as guest in your country.
 
My camera, mobilphone, dictionary, Spanish lesson, maps, medical treatment, and a lot of other things. Value about $3,000 to $3.500. You may think that I'm rich, but I'm not. I did a lot of savings to do this trip.
 
I was on a bus from San José  (Musoc, what a creepy place) to San Isidro de Kapital, on Aug. 11 at about 9:30 a.m. The bus makes a stop halfway at a café. I was stupid enough to leave some of my luggage in the the shelf above my seat, like everyone else apparently did.

The bus driver was first man off the bus. I took a short cup of coffe. Five minutes at most. My back was turned to the bus only when I ordered and paid. Alarm bells were ringing in my head, and I went to the bus as first person again. Five or six persons never did leave that bus!

Luggage was gone.

And so was a passenger who had been sitting next to me. He was leaving in a waiting car, with three companions.
Looking back - I was spotted already in Musoc.

It was so clear. But as a tourist who's not used to spotting a criminal mind. Man, what does that guard with the dark glasses in Musoc see on the whole?

Bus driver, with all that gold around his neck, appeared to have fun with my unhappiuness. Question is. Are there thieves with every bus? Do they succeed with every bus? Is everybody just closing their eyes?

I can see your fencing and barbed wire on almost every house.

In San José a taxi driver (nice guy) and hotel receptionist (Best Western) said to me: "Don't go out at night. Don't count on the police. They are not there."  How can You live with that?
 
I know that I come from a cosey little corner of the earth (Denmark). I think that Costa Rica could (and deserves) to be like that, too. And you have all the beautiful chicas, and the weather with you. Congratulation with that. But I feel sorry for you. That's not a place to live for desent people.
 
I think you have to show the criminals who is in charge here. Did they not have success with a "3 times and you're out" law in U.S.A?
John Nielsen
Roskilde, Denmark

Crackdown on concessions
could strip Gringo owners


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I recently took a tour on the Nicoya Peninsula from Tamarindo to Sámara, and guess what? I found that almost all coastal properties in this area are owned by foreigners. And I would guess this to be true for the entire coast.

If the majority of coastal land were still in national ownership, I doubt that we would be seeing these skyrocketing property taxes and concession fees in these areas. Will property taxes be raised across the board, or just in areas of almost exclusive foreign ownership? Will Heredia property taxes be the same as Jaco’s? If they are, I would suspect that Ticos will not pay them. I don’t believe the majority of Tico property owners could afford to pay them. It might be that nobody will pay them.

The government can cancel concession leases if fees are not paid. But it cannot foreclose on titled private property for failure to pay property taxes. If property taxes go unpaid, and the government cannot foreclose, it might mean a drain to the Costa Rican government coffers. In there effort to quickly create a large treasury, the Costa Rica government may learn one of my personal mottos: “Greed kills.” Most fortunes are not made in one swoop. They are accumulated over time.

Rising concession fees are obviously a blow to foreign ownerships and a sign of what may be to come.

In my seminars I have for years advised against long-term involvement with concession property in Costa Rica, because (and remember where you heard this first) the next thing that may happen is a challenge to the practice of foreign minority ownership controlling national majority ownership of corporations that own concession leases.

If this challenge occurs, and if it is judged that these contracts circumvent the law, and therefore found to be illegal, the silent majority (Tico owners) will now be the owners of so much foreign capital that it will make the Villalobos debacle look small in comparison.

The new higher concession fees are merely a slap. If the common manner of leasing concession property is ruled illegal, it will be the knockout punch that sends Gringos sailing off Tico shores with their tales between their legs.

I wish the U.S. would present the Costa Rica government (and governments all over the world) a yearly bill for the protection we have provided that has enabled other nations to prosper. Instead, we are compensated by the Costa Rica government instigating an event that cost mostly retired North American millions (Villalobos fiasco) and now it looks like the next move is to find another legal (yet unethical) way to pencil whip foreigners out of their money and this country.
Phil Baker
San Diego California


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 249

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Bush and Peruvian president sign final free trade deal
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President George Bush and Peruvian President Alan Garcia have signed a free trade agreement between their countries.

Bush said the agreement creates new opportunities for both Americans and Peruvians.

"Opening up markets to U.S. goods and services will help the Peruvian consumer," he said. "By removing barriers to U.S. services and investment, the agreement will help create a secure, predictable legal framework that will help attract U.S. investors."

The deal eliminates duties on 80 percent of U.S. industrial and commercial goods sold in Peru as well as tariffs on more than two-thirds of U.S. agricultural products. Bush says it locks in access for Peruvian businesses to the world's largest market and will benefit Peruvian consumers with more choices and lower prices.

Getting the deal through Congress is the result of an arrangement with the White House earlier this year to include enforceable labor and environmental protections in free trade agreements.
Bush said that approach is working. He wants Congress to approve pending deals with Colombia and Panama to show Washington is serious about expanding hemispheric trade when American influence is being challenged by Venezuela and Argentina.

"Those who espouse the language of false populism will use failure of these trade agreements as a way of showing America isn't committed to our friends in the hemisphere," he said. "It is vital that Congress send a strong message that the United States of America is committed to advancing freedom and prosperity in our neighborhood and approve these agreements with strong bipartisan majorities."

President Garcia called it a great day for democracy and social justice and a bad day for authoritarianism and those who he says are against democracy and free trade.

"This is a crucial opportunity to consolidate hemispheric relations," he said. "The ties between the U.S. and Latin America have been plagued by misunderstandings, but they are also full of great prospects for reaching democracy and consensus."

Trade between the United States and Perú has more than doubled over the past three years to nearly $9 billion.


Wealthy Bolivian provinces try to obtain more automony
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of Bolivians marched both for and against President Evo Morales late Saturday, as four eastern provinces declared greater autonomy from the central government.

Critics of President Morales rallied in the states of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando to celebrate their greater independence — a move the government has called illegal.

Supporters of the Bolivian president marched in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, to celebrate a new draft constitution approved by a pro-Morales majority.

The four provinces in the eastern lowlands object to a new constitution that boosts presidential powers and increases
 the rights of Bolivia's Indian majority. Bolivian Indians live mainly in the more impoverished western highlands and form the core of Morales' support.

The constitution will be put to a referendum next year.

Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, wants to break up the large landholdings of the eastern farmers, many of whom are of European descent, and redistribute the property among Indian groups.

He also wants to redistribute the nation's oil and gas wealth, which is centered in the east.

The four provinces are seeking to keep much of the tax revenues they generate. They say they do not want independence, but to retain control of their wealth.


Colombian officials and ex-rebels melt down 18,000 surrendered weapons
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian and Organization of American States officials have supervised the destruction of thousands of weapons surrendered by demobilized right-wing paramilitary fighters.

More than 18,000 weapons were melted down Friday. They were handed over as part of a 2003 peace pact between the
Colombian government and the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. Former fighters and their victims, as well as foreign dignitaries, attended the event.

The melted weapons will be used to make plaques honoring the 9,000 civilian victims of the Autodefensa fighters. The 2003 peace accord resulted in the demobilization of over 30,000 men. However, officials say there is evidence that some fighters are re-arming.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 17, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 249


Imagen V show has a few gems but a pack of clinkers, too
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

New media art is always a bit hit and miss with the potential to come across as a foundationless piece of pretension if it is not done well.

The Bienal Iberoamericana Inquieta Imagen V, a competition for video artists from across Latin America, is a good example of this, containing a few pieces that engage well with the subject and make the most of their medium, but many that leave the viewer cold.

Most of the works are video projections, some as short as a pistol shot and the flight of birds and some as long as a didactic letter that teaches about identity, isolation and fuschia flowers.

Other media range from photography and animation to Internet blogs and ancient video games.

Out of almost 200 entries from 13 different countries, 37 were chosen to fill the spaces of the Museo de Arte y Diseño, and some of them leave a viewer wondering what was so awful about the rejected works.

The vast majority of entrants were Costa Ricans, and works were chosen for show to create a panorama of Spanish-American works that is accessible to both the public who have engaged with technolgical art before and those who are encountering it for the first time.

Five works won cash prizes, including an undeserving triptec of photographs showing poor Nicaraguans searching through a dump to find articles that give some beauty to their lives.

Not an original idea nor interestingly photographed, the series was praised for using the presence of children to humanize a degrading situation.

One projection's entire focus is a sequence of slightly blurred changing Christmas scenes, seemingly chosen only for its fittingness to the season, and several others that were too bland to make any sort of impression on the memory.

Criticisms aside, the exhibition contains some gems that redeem the judges' tastes.

The first work to greet the visitor is also the best – Christian Bermúdez's “Dear Neighbor" (Estimados vecinos).

From a spot on the thoughtfully-provided beanbags, the viewer watches the artist painting his white house in chilly Norway with bright pink stripes. The script running along the bottom of the screen explains his motivations to his neighbors, who he presumes will hate his expressive exterior decoration.

Fuschias, he says.


bienalspiderman
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson    
Leonardo Rojas' 'Caos urbe,' set in downtown San José


videoartshow
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson      
A Rolando Sánchez video game piece is among
the best at the Bienal Iberoamericana


As a Costa Rican moving to Norway, he chooses the color of a flower that grows in the tropics and uses it as a mode to shout his identity throughout the neighborhood, knowing that the color will probably displease his neighbors and drive them to complain about him.

But they don't, so he gets in touch with them by letter, telling them about Costa Rican culture and inviting communication between people who see each other every day but know as little about each other as people living an ocean apart.

The concept of the house is used well to explore wider themes such as cultural identity, tolerance and communication.

Peruvian Rolando Sánchez proves that a simple work can also be great with an installation called “Matari 69200” that uses only an old video game. The game, a simple shooting task which will frustrate people who are used to the smooth graphics and easy control pads of today's consoles, is said to have arrived in Perú in the 80s, at the same time that terror was brought to Ayacucho, a Peruvian region, by Sendero Luminoso.

While the rich were playing at shooting on their new games, Luminoso's Maoist gangs were killing thousands in real life.

Another favorite was Karen Clachar's “Guanacaste siglo XXI” a video projection of traditional Costa Rican music, complete with an old lady barking into a microphone.

Also, if you want to see San Jose's Avenida Central full of spidermen, check out Leonardo Rojas' manipulated photograph that comments on urban life.

Overall the show is thought-provoking, exploring themes from the significance of visible symbols and the effects they have on mental systems of categorization, to the arrival of globalization in Latin America at the end of the 19th century.

It is also well laid-out, with artists' motivations for their works provided on labels, giving viewers some helpful hints for more obscure pieces. Chairs are scattered throughout, letting a visitor sit and enjoy an installation through headphones, which play the soundtracks too loud but give each piece its own isolated space without interfering with others.

The exhibition is open until March 15.

Christmas Entertainment ...

Time to get into the Christmas Spirit

The run-up to Christmas is a time of panicking about  where you're going to find fresh cranberries, deliberating  about whether you can really buy socks for your aunt  for the fourth year running, and struggling through  Multiplaza in Escazú like a packhorse, dodging the toy
train and cursing the dancing Christmas tree.

Amid all the hassle it can be difficult to get yourself into  the Christmas spirit until you finally sit down on  Christmas Eve, down a swift sherry and breathe a sigh  of relief that the only obstacle you have left is the cooking.

Opportunities do, however, abound in San José for a  bit of old-fashioned festivity during Advent, from  getting hooked on an epic cinematic adventure to joining  in some Christmas carol singing with tinsel in your hair.


 Nutcrack scene

The Nutcracker at the Teatro National

Click here for more ideas on Christmas
entertainment - read the full article

Film ...

Sharkwater calls for more sharks in the water


shark120507Passion is contagious.  Inspired work from someone who is emotionally invested provokes similar commitments from those lucky enough to
Sharkwater film footage         
witness it.

Rob Stewart's "Sharkwater" documentary inspires this kind of passion.  Stewart is an underwater photographer and biologist which is immediately obvious to the viewer with his stunning imagery and knowledgeable facts about shark life. 

"Sharkwater" is visually astonishing.  It was filmed in high-definition and effectively incorporates historical U.S. government-issued public service announcements that are among the best comic fodder from old-school footage reels. 

Obsessed with sharks since childhood, Stewart realized that the world's shark population is estimated to have declined by 90 percent and commited himself to saving them. 

Click here to read the rest of our review


Other films out this week

Michael Clayton
George Clooney's hit and miss film career once again gets it right as he plays a burnt-out fixer for a powerful law firm in this thriller. He covers up the indiscretions of the rich and famous, and is expected to pull the senior lawyer back into line when he has a breakdown in the middle of an important case. A dirty tricks campaign waged between the two sides of the court case ensues. The film has received excellent reviews for its acting and ambience.

The painted veil (Al otro lado del mundo)
Not exactly Christmas fare, but beautifully filmed none the less. Edward Norton plays a doctor that takes his unwilling wife (Naomi Watts) to China in the middle of a cholera epidemic, allegedly to offer help to the dying but also to punish her for an affair she had because of her lack of love for the doctor. This love is inspired all too late by the hardship they endure.

Alvin and the Chipmunks (Alvin y las ardillas)
Those irritating little singing rodents finally get the CGI treatment in the wake of Garfield and their other cartoon friends. A record company manager is trying to exploit the chipmunks in this latest of offerings to entertain the kids at Christmas. They may indeed be pleased, as the chipmunks are pretty cute, but the same cannot be said for the adults who have to sit through the poorly developed plot and lacklustre acting.


Art Galleries ....

Mistaken identity? No such thing, says new exhibition

historiaoficialCosta Rica is a land of volatile volcanoes, orchids, coffee fincas, Catholicism and Ticos.

Or you could say it's a country of wide seashores, football stadiums, fast food restaurants and beach towns overtaken by Gringos.

Some are clichéd symbols of a tourist nation, while others are part of the country's changing culture, but all are involved in Museo de Arte Costarricense's new exhibition that challenges viewers to reconsider their own perceptions of the nation.

It is not new to propose that identity is an insecure,
many-faceted thing that shifts with each person's viewpoint, but the concept is explored very effectively by the interactive "Las posibilidades de la mirada" (the possibilities of the glance).

A fat, Hawaiian shirt-clad, red-faced Gringo, lifting his hand to guard his eyes from the tropical sunlight, greets the museum's visitors at the entrance.

He stands next to a placard that describes the exhibition as a consideration of cultural identity and national territory, encouraging people to think about the way ideas of Costa Rica are formed and to see that interpretations of identity are endless and open.

Read more - click here


Oriental engravings brighten up Semana
Japonesa
in Calderón Guardia

Japanese artOriental engravings that have travelled half way across the world from Japan have ended their journey in Museo Calderón Guardia, where an exhibition of 75 works was inaugurated Thursday.

Subjects from autumn trees to high-rise apartments chart the growing influence of the West and development on post-war Japan.

Read more - click here

Banco Central exhibit brings out the animal
in art

free standing art 200The Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica is running "La Animalística en el Arte Costarricense" in its temporary 
exhibition space below
the Plaza de la Cultura. The collection presents the varying uses and depictions of animals by Costa Rican artists throughout history.

The exhibition signage placed at the entrance said that the presented works depict animals from two perspectives.

Read more - click here

Dramatic Arts ...

Minotaur theme wins contemporary dance festival

bull headed man The search for happiness within ourselves rather than in superficial external objects was the theme of the winning dance at the 24th Festival de Coreografos this weekend.  A bull-headed dancer took the centre of attention of Antonio Corrales' piece “Solo sueña un minotauro,” presented in front of an international board of judges Sunday.

The judges said that the composition stood out from the other nine contemporary dance acts for its "good choreographic approach, good line, good idea, excellent lighting design,  continuity with symbols and finally poetry.”

Corrales was both the choreographer and the dancer of the piece, which is the first entry he has made into the competition as a choreographer.

Four other acts were also chosen to participate in the opening night of next year's festival: “Imágenes imaginadas para imaginar, serie I,” by Rogelio López, “Mil kilómetros” by Nandayure Harley, “MIA ZOI,” by Iréni Stamou and “4 a.m.” by  Silvia Ortiz and David Hernández.



Symphonic Conductor is a big supporter of music education

A mugging at gunpoint could have robbed Costa Rica's Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional of its new conductor just as he was beginning the job, but the conductor, Chosei Komatsu,
did not turn his back on San José, and now the next generation of musicians is feeling the benefit.

Eating ice cream in the same hotel outside which he was mugged in 2004, the sweet-toothed conductor recounts how the media assumed that he would flee the country immediately.

"I told them I would fulfill my job," he said. "Musical education conductor Chosei Kamatsu can help to abate the rising violence in this country. I want to put violins instead of guns into the hands of the children."

Last month Komatsu saw a big step forward, as the government of his home country, Japan, finally agreed to a $500,000 donation to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and the Instituto Nacional de Musica.

The money, which Komatsu asked for when he was appointed in 2003, has gone towards replacing 25-year-old tubas and other important instruments for the orchestra, as well as getting better facilities for the educational institute.

Komatsu said he knows that it is important to get children interested from a young age, as he first became determined to follow a career in conducting as a 4-year-old watching Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan in action on television.

Read all of our interview with Chosei Komatsu here

Food ...

A great meal is not all in the presentation

With a vaulted glass ceiling, palm trees lining the pathway and posh lighting, one would not expect Saga restaurant to be settled behind a dull parking lot in Escazú.


Although this restaurant may look out of place, it doesn't deviate much from the norm in Escazú, an area many would classify as suburban sprawl.

The majority of the cuisine at Saga seems to fit with the setting: classy presentation, yet lacking any profound flavors. Although the restaurant boasts itself as an “international food restaurant” on its Web site, much of the inspired cuisine is lacking the depth which would be found in authentic dishes. There is no direct theme and the menu seems somewhat scattered.



musslesandfondue120407

Fondue, chips and mussels at Saga Restaurant, Escazu

Click here to read the full review
Festivals ...

Welsh festival brings stars of the page to Colombia

Welsh graphic of Walker
Alice Walker
There is a town in Wales that is full of books. On every corner of every cobbled street there is a store with second-hand books spilling from its wooden shelves, and often several on the stretch in between.

Each year, this little town in the foothills of the Black Mountains — usually a haven of peace for a quiet cream tea down by the river — becomes a pilgrimage
for the literary, intellectuals and people who just love a good read as it holds Britain's greatest festival of books, the Hay Festival.

Last year the festival, which sees a collection of the world's leading authors, poets, musicians and speakers gather to share their thoughts and works with the reading public, was transported across the ocean to an equally attractive little town with the added bonuses of sun and sea.

Cartagena de Indias, a colonial town in Colombia, will host the second Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias this January, with a bevy of stars of the page from Pullitzer Prize-winners to U.N. ambassadors.

Dubbed the "Woodstock of the Mind" by Bill Clinton, the Hay Festival has enjoyed the presence of great minds such as Nobel Lauretes Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott, biologist and TV presenter David Attenborough and hundreds of authors from Norman Mailer to Louis de Berniers and Germaine Greer.

Read more HERE

Quepos to get it's own international music festival

The usually sedate sportfishing town of Quepos is awaiting a greater inundation of visitors than usual this high season, as a gang of rock bands will descend on it for aclaim will put Quepos on the international music festival map.

Experienced American promoters and their rock star friends have taken a gamble on the festival, even though they said they were warned that it was doomed to failure by prominent Costa Rican promoter Marvin Cordoba.

Read more here

First International Blues Festival

Texas blues bands are heading down to Santa Ana for an afternoon of live music. BBQ's and cold beers will accompany artists including Smokin Joe Kubek & Bnois King and Robbie Clarke & the Live Wire Blues Band.

Two stages at Motorpsychos Bar and Grill will host a total of seven bands during the afternoon of Feb. 9. Tickets cost $25 and can be found by contacting www.bluesdevilsband.com.

Identidad Art Festival

Fifty artists will have the enviable job of displaying their work on a warm beach in Guanacaste this February, as part of the Identidad Art Festival.

Hosted by Playa Conchal Reserve, the festival aims to revive the cultural values of the area, promoting local art as a tourist attraction.

Painters, sculptors and musicians are all welcome to participate and show off Costa Rican talent to the high season tourists during Feb. 2-4.

 Interested parties should visit the site www.myspace.com/identidadartfest.

Some points to consider as you move up to higher-limit games
Many players think about competing in higher stakes games.  It’s a natural progression as your skills improve, yet there’s still a lot to consider when moving up in limits. 

The first thing to think about is whether you’re truly capable of winning in bigger games.  With rare exceptions, you’ll be facing better quality players as you move up to higher limits.  So before you even consider jumping to that next level, be honest with yourself about how you fare at your current stakes. 

Keeping records is a must.  It’s the only way you’ll accurately know how well you’re doing in a particular game over the long run.  If you determine that you win handily and regularly at your current limit, then you just might be ready to take that next step.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when you do make the jump to higher limits.
 
Play shorter sessions. 

To play effectively in higher stakes games, especially in your first few outings, play shorter sessions.  You simply can’t play at a peak performance level if you’re mentally or physically fatigued.  If you normally sit for 8 to 10 hours at your current game, don’t play for more than 4 to 6 hours at the higher stakes game until you start to feel comfortable.
 
Decide on a loss limit and stick to it. 

One of the key reasons players fail when they move to higher limits has less to do with talent and more to do with pressure.  In higher stakes games, players must be able to endure bigger financial swings.  A few bad beats can send even the best players on tilt.  Even worse, an unexpected loss can quickly erode your poker confidence and turn you into a scared-money player. 

To combat this effect, make sure to set a loss limit that you can handle both emotionally and financially.  If you lose that money, even if it’s in the first 10 minutes, get up and leave.  For example, if you normally play $5-$10 no-limit hold’em but decide to step it up to $10-$20, don’t risk more than your initial buy-in.  A $2,000 loss limit might be appropriate for some, but it’s important to set a limit that’s right for your own situation and playing ability.

Whatever your loss limit, it’s critical that you stick to it!  For that, you’ll need self-control.  If you don’t trust yourself, never bring more money than your loss limit as this will



prevent you from impulsively buying additional chips.  Take a walk back to your hotel before you thoughtlessly decide to reload your wallet.  The fresh air just might knock some needed sense into you.

Play a low fluctuation style of poker. 

If the game you’re thinking about jumping into appears to be fast-paced with crazy action, don’t play.  Instead, look for a game that’s more controllable when you decide to step up to higher limits.  This way you can comfortably get your feet wet and play a patient game. 

It’s important to play cautiously in your first higher limit sessions.  Don’t make overly aggressive or tricky plays.  Remember, your realistic goal is to not lose big.  Use this new experience to get accustomed to the higher stakes and to pick up on your opponents’ styles and tendencies.  Only after you’ve logged some hours playing at higher stakes should you take chances with bluffs and more aggressive play. 

Here’s one final point.

Determine your own motivation for playing higher limit poker. 

Is it ego, the desire to improve your game against better competition, or is it simply about making more money?  If it’s all about the money, consider that you might actually do better playing small limit games against weak opponents than you would facing advanced players in high limit games.

Picking the right game is just as important as playing well.

Visit www.cardsharkmedia.com/book.html for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, "Hold’em Wisdom for All Players."
© 2007 Card Shark Media.  All rights reserved.


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