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(506) 2223-1327        Published  Friday, Dec. 19, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 252       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Workers take a break Thursday while setting up tents at the Zapote fairgrounds in the eastern part of San José.
zapote tents
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Holiday swings into high gear this afternoon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tents are going up at the Zapote fairgrounds, a sure sign of Christmas.

The Fiestas de San José kicks off Christmas day. This is the event where there are tons of food and where Ticos and some visitors test their valor by getting in the ring with a confused bull.

As usual, all the health and municipal permits are not in place, and workers are struggling to meet deadlines.

The Fiestas begins Christmas day and runs through Sunday, Jan. 4. Drinkers have their choice of a  handful of elaborate, if temporary, beer gardens. Television capitalizes on the bulls. Channel 7 puts on a variety show called "El Chinamo," shot in part from the station's booth or chinamo at the fairgrounds.

The carnival is a challenge to police. More than 300 municipal employees are at work providing security downtown and hauling a procession of pickpockets, thieves and worse to jail. Many officers will be providing security at the Fiestas.

Johnny Araya Monge, mayor of San José, said that three security cameras will help police watch over the fiestas, and municipal officers will have up to four of the individual transportation devices, Segway, that the municipality is testing.

The mayor also said that a security camera will be added to the network downtown to cover Avenida 4, the Paseo Union Europea, that has been converted into a pedestrian walkway.

Municipal police, of course, will be joined by Fuerza Pública and Tránsito officers.

The other big event of the Christmas season is the Tope Nacional or day-long horse parade Dec. 26. That will follow the usual route from Parque la Sabana east on Paseo Colón and then to Avenida 2 and Paseo de los Estudiantes (Calle 9) to Plaza Víquez.

The Christmas holiday begins for many employees this afternoon. Some government offices, like immigration have been closed except for appointments since Monday. But expats should not expect to get much official business done today because Friday is the office Christmas party day.

Retail and tourism workers will not have much of a holiday. This is the big season, and persons in those industries are holding their breathes to seek how the holiday pans out financially.

Various police agencies have issued warnings about traffic accidents, criminals, fireworks, alcohol and even the bull fights. Participants, so-called informal bull fighters, have to have personal insurance this year.

Police also have issued a warning that burglars live for the holidays because so many of the wealthier Central Valley residents head for the beaches, leaving their homes less protected.

The Cruz Roja is gearing up for an eventful two weeks. The organization pointed out Thursday that December is a big month for bad things. Already 57 persons have died violently this month, the Cruz Roja said. Most of the dead were either accident victims or the result of gun play or knifings.
About those bulls

From the A.M. Costa Rica archives

Costa Rica bull fights: For anyone who does not understand, here is the concept:

A normally intelligent individual gets in a ring with 50 or 60 other persons and tries to stay alive while bull after bull is released into the crowd. These are not like Ferdinand, the children's book bull last seen sitting under a tree and sniffing flowers. These are the real deal: hardened, bad-tempered creatures who really do not like Ticos running up and slapping them on the rump.

Those in the ring have to be fast afoot, although bulls do not have a long attention span and are easily distracted. The audience cheers as participants are propelled through the air or cringe on the ground under the sharp horns of an unhappy bull.

Many leap to temporary safety over the interior walls of the ring. Sometimes so does a bull.

Eventually a rider comes along, ropes the tired bull and makes way for a new one.

A tragedy has not happened recently at Zapote, but the Tico bull fights are a sometimes fatal staple at fairs and fiestas around the country. In this version of the sport the human dies and not the bull.

The Cruz Roja will be on the front line at all the holiday activities. Hundreds of Cruz Roja employees and volunteers will be on the job throughout the country.

The Cruz Roja also is the initial caregiver for informal bull fighters who are not fast enough on their feet. A special clinic is attached to the Zapote bull ring, and wounded bull fighters are passed through a window to waiting paramedics. People have died as a result of their participating in the bull baiting event. Many more have suffered serious wounds.

Thankfully for participants in the bull event, the creatures have a short attention span and generally can be distracted from their pursuit of a single individual.

There may be as many as 150 persons in the ring goading the bull, waving shirts and red cloths.

Promoters make their money by sell seats to spectators, and there are worldwide television franchise rights.

Although one suspects that anyone who gets into a ring with a fighting bull is either crazy or drunk, the promoters are strict in prohibiting alcohol. Bulls with their horns and massive necks have been known to propel participants 30 or 40 feet into the stands.

One individual, Diógenes Matarrita Araya of San Joaquín de Flores de Heredia, had the bad fortune to have his death taped for later repeated display on local television. He died on the horn of a bull at a festival in San Josecito de la Montaña in Guanacaste March 11, 2006.

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Allegro Papagayo faces
claims for gulf pollution

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The operator of the Allegro Papagayo was in environmental court Thursday seeking to reduce a claim for some $224,000 by the government because the hotel ran sewage into the Golfo de Papagayo.

Lawyers for the owner, Hotel Occidental Playa Nacascolo S. A., are seeking to reduce the claim to about $50,000.

The case was before the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. The session lasted most of the day, and the hotel's lawyers have three days to submit more arguments. The tribunal has two months to make a determination.

This is the case of the northern Pacific coast hotel that was closed down by the Ministerio de Salud because the sewer system was contaminating the gulf. That happened in February, and the hotel was allowed to reopen on a restricted schedule.

Another claim came Thursday from representatives of the Laboratorio Nacional de Aguas del Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados. The claim noted that the hotel's operations cost Playa Manzanillo its blue flag status, a coveted environmental emblem.

Lab inspectors noticed the problem in November 2007. A complaint came from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, which is in charge of the Papagayo project.

The monetary value of the pollution was set by the Dirección de Gestión de la Calidad Ambiental of the ministry.

The complaints also say the hotel has been operating without the appropriate permits issued by the health ministry.

Defensoría, consejo head
dispute water line value

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of the Consejo Civil de Carrillo has taken issue with the Defensoría de los Habitantes who said that the Sardinal water line to the Pacific coast should be canceled.

Daniel Soley of the Defensoría made the comment Thursday, and Carlos Alberto Chanto Canales, president of the consejo, quickly issued a rebuttal. He said the community wants the water line built.

The Sardinal-El Coco-Ocotal water line has been financed by Pacific coast developers for $8 million, and it is being constructed by contractors under the supervision of the  Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the national water company.

Some in Sardinal have protested that the line would take water away from the community. Soley said that the project was illegal.

But Chanto said that the Procuraduría, the nation's lawyer, has passed judgement on the financial agreement. Furthermore, said Chanto, Soley has adopted a position held by a small group of which many are not from the area.

Some of the protests have been violent and involved students and others bused in from the Central Valley.

Chanto defended development as something that would benefit the area and that Soley's call to cancel the project was taken without considering the long-term consequences. Among these consequences would be job loss, said Chanto. Development is a process of construction, not destruction, he said.

Valley faces chilly weather
with winds bringing clouds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Central Valley is suffering through a cold spell. San José registered 16.5 C  Thursday night. That's a nippy 62 degrees F.

The wind from the north is making the outside air seem cooler. The same winds are putting abundant clouds above the Caribbean and the northern zone and generating partially cloudy skies elsewhere.

The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional said that daily temperatures of from 30 to 22 C (86 to 72 F)  during the day could yield to a low as 20 to 13 C (68 to 55.4 F) during the night. The higher temperatures are in the lower elevations and the beach communities while the chill is at higher elevations.

Meanwhile, Costa Rican residents could warm up a bit knowing that in International Falls, Minnesota, the 1 a.m. temperature was minus 24 C or  minus 11 degrees F and there was a winter storm watch in effect.

Three died in electrical misphaps

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three persons died in two separate incidents when they came in contact with high tension lines Thursday.

A 9:30 a.m. mishap claimed the life of a man and his nephew in La Tigra de San Carlos when they touched a wire of the local Coopelesca while putting up an exterior television antenna.  They were members of the Blanco family.

Another death happened in Aserrí, also Thursday, according to preliminary reports.

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Two lawyers face allegations of assisting drug smuggler
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators continued their probe into drug gang infiltration in Costa Rica Thursday with raids on two properties in Zapote and one in Paso Ancho.

The Poder Judicial confirmed the raids and said agents searched the home of a lawyer and the lawyer's office. The lawyer later was identified as former legislator Leonel Villalobos, who returned to his legal practice after serving six years of a 12-year sentence for involvement with cocaine.

The other person was a female relative, also a lawyer.

The allegations are not in the distribution and sale of drugs but that the pair were involved in creating fake paperwork to justify illegal income to a client.

The Poder Judicial linked the case to Fernando Gainza Cano and others. Gainza was sentenced a year ago for international drug trafficking. The Poder Judicial said that the paperwork, in addition to justifying the possession of some property by Gainza, also tried to evade the confiscation of the property because of the drug conviction
The general characterization of the crimes alleged is money laundering in turning tainted funds into money or goods that could be used in commerce. That is a big problem for drug smugglers because the international norms on banking and the transfer of funds continue to tighten.

Costa Rica has been linked to money laundering networks by the U.S. government.

Anti-drug agents arrested Villalobos in possession of a kilo of cocaine in 1999. In Costa Rica a lawyer does not automatically lose his license upon conviction of a felony, so he resumed his practice when he left prison on early release.

He has since become identified as a defense lawyer handling international drug cases and the case of Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, who was detained in Puntarenas Aug. 10, 2006. Martínez has been credited with organizing certain members of the Puntarenas fishing fleet to transport drugs and provide fuel for Colombian fastboats in the Pacific.

Martínez was the Costa Rican logistics chief for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the drug smuggling terrorist rebels in that country.

Russian president expresses interest in Nicaragua's canal plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev expressed interest in a Nicaraguan proposal to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with a new canal. The project could include the Río San Juan that runs along Costa Rica's northern border.

Medvedev said Moscow will move to strengthen its ties with Nicaragua, as well as other Central and South American countries.

Medvedev spoke Thursday as he hosted visiting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Moscow, where the two sides signed accords on agriculture, space, telecommunications and energy.

The two presidents discussed a draft agreement on visa-free travel between their countries, and Medvedev mentioned the canal proposal. Nicaragua's interest in a new canal would pose a symbolic challenge to the U.S.-built Panama Canal,
which cemented U.S. influence in the region in the early 20th century.

A Nicaraguan canal that uses the Río San Juan and Nicaragua's large lake, the Lago de Nicaragua, would require less digging than did the Panamá canal. The idea has existed in one form or another since the middle of the 19th century.

Last week, three Russian warships visited Nicaragua and delivered about $200,000 worth of computers, medicines and other supplies.

Panamá has just decided on a $5 billion canal expansion to accommodate increased shipping and larger ships. Costa Rica has the capacity for a so-called dry canal in which ships would unload their cargo at Limón on the Caribbean to be transported by train to Caldera on the Pacific and vice versa. However, the rail route over the central mountains is in disrepair.

The zoo enhances the appetite and musing about cages
This question is for those of you who are not enthusiastic about San José.  What does San José have in common with Paris and New York City?  And why am I asking this question now?

Having read something about the Parque Bolívar, the one big park in the center of the city that I have not visited, I wanted to see it.  This week my friend Jorge agreed to take me there. 

Parque Bolívar is deep inside Barrio Amón, an old part of the city with some elegant buildings that have been renovated and/or restored.  It is once again a vital neighborhood with restaurants and small hotels and many interesting streets.  In short, it has been regentrified.  After retracing our way several times and asking directions, we found the entrance to the park in a cul de sac circle that also contains a restaurant and a bar. (On the way out I saw a building with a sign that read “Federal Mogul”?!)

There is an entry fee because the park is also a zoo. For adults the usual fee is 1,800 colons  ($3.25); for residents with ciudadanos de oro, it is 1,200 ($2.20), as it is for children.  I have not heard much good about this city zoo, and I am not an enthusiast of zoos, but I did want to visit the park.

A map of the park/zoo, we were told, is being done but is not yet ready. However we were assured that if we took the walkway up the small incline to the left past the veterinary building, we would not get lost.  Nearly two hours later, much to my surprise, although Jorge seemed to know where we were, we emerged from the way we had come. 

We had walked along paved paths among much greenery surrounded by towering trees. It was not a park in the regular sense, but there were a number of park benches along the way.  And it satisfied my love of mazes.  We also saw quite a few animals of Costa Rica and a few not indigenous to the country (like the lion).  There were lots of birds in cages, incredibly colorful exotic birds, and monkeys, not in cages but enclosures with walls too far for them to leap to.  Most of the animals were docile, even listless. Even the crocodiles that we saw in a fenced pond seemed docile. 

We both gasped when we saw an attendant casually climb over the fence to within inches of three of the crocs.  He was carrying food to the turtles on the other side of the pond, safely separated from their neighbors.  We mentally gasped again when we saw what they were being tossed to eat: tiny baby chicks.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

There were more people walking the zoo than I expected to see — like us, enjoying this nearby green escape from the city’s bustle and noise.

By the time we left, the animals were eating their lunches, and we realized that we, too, were hungry.  We decided upon the restaurant, Cafetal de la Luz, at the Hotel Clarion, also in Barrio Amón.  The menu had a nice variety of choices but we both settled upon the exejutivo – it was, I believe 3,500 colons ($6.40).  It was one of the most satisfying lunches I have enjoyed in a long time.  It started with a small green salad with a delicious dressing. 

The entrada (main course) was a typical casado.  I chose grilled chicken, flavored but unfortunately grilled too long. Jorge chose the beef, which was tenderized and nicely spiced.  Both plates were accompanied by beans, rice, fried plantains and chopped vegetables. The dessert, also included in the price, was tres leches cake.  I don’t normally like tres leches cake but I ate every bit of it.

I couldn’t help but think that humans, especially those of us who live in cities, have a lot in common with animals in a zoo. When we are not encaged in our apartments, if we go out to work, an office or factory becomes our cage.  Let out, we are controlled by laws and human-made barriers that restrict our movement and freedom.  And then, most of us enjoy, actually enjoy, going to restaurants and being served our food.  About as far as we go to forage for our food is the local supermarket or feria. 

In short, we all are more or less domesticated.  However, I recommend a day at the zoo so you can make your own opinion.

Next week I will give the answer to the question in my first paragraph, but now I want to correct last week’s column.  A reader pointed out that I should have said that there are 4,000 foreign prostitutes in Costa Rica. They are competing with what are probably many more Costa Rican working girls.

Meanwhile, to all my readers, I wish you a holiday season filled with peace and moments of pure joy.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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New rules would outlaw unfair and deceptive practices by credit card companies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Relief is on the way for millions of Americans who are furious with their credit card companies.

U.S. regulators — led by the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank — Thursday approved new rules to ban what they call unfair or deceptive practices by banks and credit card companies.

For years, consumers have complained banks have imposed unreasonable fees or have hiked their interest rates for no reason at all. Consumer groups say that while such practices
were legal, they helped push cardholders deeper into debt.
The new rules would protect consumers from arbitrary rate hikes, and require they be given a fair amount of time to pay down debts.

Critics complain the changes will only make it more difficult for many consumers to get credit.

One study estimates the rule changes could cost the banking industry more than $10 billion a year. The new rules are scheduled to take effect in July.

Some U.S. lawmakers say they plan to look at passing legislation next year to aggressively target credit card lending abuses.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


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Raúl Castro seeks swap
of U.S., Cuban prisoners

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Raúl Castro has proposed releasing Cuban political prisoners in exchange for five Cubans jailed in the United States on espionage convictions.

Castro spoke in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday after meeting with President Luiz Inacio da Silva. He told reporters he wants the release of the men, known as the "Cuban Five," who were convicted of spying in 2001 and sentenced in a Miami federal court to long terms in U.S. detention. They are heroes in Cuba.

The U.S. State Department rejected the proposal, saying the two situations are independent of one another. A spokesperson said the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States had been tried and sentenced for crimes, whereas the Cuban prisoners were jailed simply for protesting peacefully.

Separately, Castro repeated his government's willingness to discuss the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba with U.S. president-elect Barack Obama.

Obama has said he would be willing to speak with Cuba's leaders but that he would maintain the nearly 50-year-old trade embargo as leverage to push for democratic change on the Communist-led island.

Wednesday leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean wrapped up a regional summit in Brazil with a call for the U.S. to lift the embargo.

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