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These stories were pujblished Friday, Dec. 21, 2001
Playa Hermosa visitors chalk up a Santa sighting on rooftop

Photo by Neil Martin 
Santa is alive and well in Playa Hermosa where Neil Martin and his wife live. They had this display on their home in Tonkawa, Okla. for three years. So when they retired to Costa Rica, Santa came with them.

Santa and the reindeer were made by Martinís company, Holiday Lighting Specialists, which manufactures outdoor holiday decorations. The web is worth a visit.: www.holidaylights.com.
They ship anywhere. Ever wonder what the import duty is on a jolly old elf and eight tiny reindeer?

Costa Rican visit
just murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Paul Fritz visits Costa Rica his thoughts turn to birds and murder. Heís managed to spot more than 400 different types of birds here.

But the murders are what he puts into his mysteries. And he leaves bodies distributed around Monteverde and Turrialba.

Fritz writes his book under the pseudonym of Max Blue, and the main character is Bismark Pacheco, an inspector characterized as the most respected man in Costa Rica, no offense to the archbishop or El Presidente.

"Cielito Lindo: is available now and features the efforts of Bismark and a lovely assistant trying to stay alive at the Monteverde Music Festival in a town not heretofore known for blood and murder.

In a couple of weeks "Murder At the CAT" another Bismark Pacheco mystery will be available for sale. "From 1992 to 1995 I did research on the cocoa tree at CATIE in Turrialba," said Fritz, referring to the Tropical Agricultural Research and High Education Center there. Both books are being marketed by Iuniverse at http://www.iuniverse.com. The paperback sells for $13.95.

Fritz has written three earlier books, including one about his year-long experiences as a minor league professional baseball player: "God Is Alive and Playing Third Base for the Appleton Papermakers."

Fritz is a retired professor of plant genetics at Penn State University. He lives with his wife of 45 years, Liddy, in Glassboro, N.J., and spends several months a year in Monteverde. He reports that yet another Bismark Pacheco mystery is underway.

Iuniverse describes itself as a digital publishing infrastructure provider that puts the power of publishing into the hands of individuals and companies, allowing them to publish and distribute. The company is heavy into Web marketing and it boasts having sold 750,000 books and attracted 8,500 authors. 

The Pacheco book seems rather fun. The publisherís blurb says, in part:

"Pacheco finds himself pitted against the oily professional criminal Delgado, masquerading as a bank vice president, and his hulking henchman, the evil Romulo. Journalist Wilson Abut writes it all down . . . the four muchachos who roam the cloud forest collecting quetzal feathers; Kenneth, the vodka-drinking poet who searches for meaning; Kaufmann, the mysterious Swiss businessman who has come to buy the town, and his gnomish valet Igor; Paco, the beer-swilling taxi driver who shaves on Tuesday and Thursday, and sings Cielito Lindo; Bonnie and Arnold, the UCLA students who came to see tropical birds and instead become kidnap victims; Dunbar, the Jamaican guide with the $1,000 binoculars, who ends up with an arrow through his throat. . . "

Your basic typical Monteverde cast of characters.

These places still 
have holiday space!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The following hotels and guest homes have limited space for the holidays. But the sooner you get your holiday accommodations, the better because every year people end up sleeping on a beach or in zero-star hotels because they waited too long.

This listing is run as a public service. Check for specific availability.

1.) Casa Laurin, a lush, safe retreat in Escazú west of San José has a mini-suite available over the holidays. Sauna, jacuzi, tailored menus that range from robust French-Canadian to delicate vegetarian. Casa Laurin. Ginette Laurin 289-4840. lauring@racsa.co.cr

2.) We have 2 luxury rental homes available for rent during the entire Christmas season. Location: Paradise. Actually, Paraiso de Santa Cruz in Guanacaste. Call Ray at   658-8160 or E-mail at rbeise@racsa.co.cr Ray   Beise, Pura Jungla Nature Reserve and Eco-Community. www.lapurajungla.com.

3.) I have 2 one-bedroom cabinas still for rent here in Jacó. 3/4 blocks from the beach. 150 meters east of Amapola Hotel ó $300 per month fully furnished with linens, towels, dishes, pots and pans, etc. gringomike@hotmail.com

4.) The Guilded Iguana, the famous Nosara hotel and restaurant, still has a few rooms over the holidays. Walk to Playa Guiones, among the best beaches in Costa Rica! Fishing, kayaks, you name it. Telephone (506) 682-0259 and via e-mail:   pattydoe@racsa.co.cr Web: www.gildediguana.com.

5.) Intercultura Language School has Costa Rican family homestays available over Christmas and New Years. The families offer a private room (single or double), breakfast and dinner, and laundry service. Homes are in Heredia, and also at Samara beach. Minimum stay is a week for $110/person.  Additional days at $16/person per day. People can call us at (506) 260-8480 or e-mail   info@interculturacostarica..com or director@interculturacostarica.com to set it up. 

6.) La Terraza B & B in Grecia is having a grand opening with special prices. The beautiful, new B &  B is close to everything. See the Web site  http://www.laterrazab-b.com/ or (506) 494-0970. E-mail: laterrazab_b@yahoo.com.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart


I have always loved mazes. I used to pencil through the ones on the comic page of the Sunday paper and would draw them myself. I was determined to go through a maze when I visited England (but didnít). If you wonder, as I did, if the word amaze is derived from maze, it is. The original meaning of amaze was "bewildered."

Now, when I feel an urge to experience a maze, I visit the Central Mercado between Avenida Central and Avenida 1. It is a covered city block of narrow alleys with many turns, lined with kiosks overflowing with goods.

You can probably find anything you want in the Central Market. All of the expected things, of course, like meats, chicken, fish, produce and dozens of "sodas" (not soft drinks, but tiny restaurants) featuring cheap food. 

You can find turtle eggs, sewing thread and yarn, spices and herbs, medicinal and otherwise, handbags and back packs, luggage, paper plates and real flowers, leather goods, dishes and kitchen utensils, Christmas ornaments and Swiss Army knives, shoes, and now, even a beauty shop. How to find them is another matter. So far I have found no signs or anything to tell you where you are. But then, if the city doesnít label its streets, why bother with its alleys, all safely within the confines of a building?

I needed some black pepper in "granos" and some vanilla beans. I also bought some "bomba." I learned of it from my friend, Lillian, after I commented on how tasty the sauce on the chicken was at a luncheon. Lillian hates it. She says her maid says it is used to cover the taste of bad meat. According to Lillian, it is also used to bolster the flavor of tamales when the broth is weak.. Itís a mixture of fifteen ingredients, including garlic, cumin, onion, cilantro, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and different peppers, and bullion. It usually is layered in a plastic bag and looks like different colored sand. Quite pretty. If I donít like it, Iíll just display it.

I play a game with myself in the mercado. (My status as an adult is sometimes tenuous.) I spot something I want in a particular kiosk, then wander off and away, then after I am completely lost, I try to find the kiosk again. This time it was a small bottle of mint flavoring. Eventually I did find it. 

I also went in search of the beauty shop Darrylle had told me about. His haircut looked good to me and it cost only a thousand colones. It took longer to find the beauty shop, which looks clean and new (which it is, being less than two months old). Menís haircuts are 1,000 colones womenís 1,200 ($3.50). I stopped getting my haircut professionally several years ago, after yet another person sheared me. I decided I could do as bad a job, for free. And I have. 

But if you go there looking for the beauty shop, enter the market from Avenida 1 between two fish markets facing the street. Be careful going up the two stairs that greet you. They look like they have been eaten away by large rats. I didnít notice that when I was leaving and turned my ankle, and went flying flat, for the third time in six months. I donít think I have become clumsier, the walkways and sidewalks are treacherous. Iíve decided to look on the positive side of these little exercises. (I call them my sidewalk greetings). 

Each time I seem to land full force on one hand to catch my fall. The other hand is usually fiercely clutching my handbag. I am always picked up quicker than I wish by at least six hands that put me back on my feet whether I want to be there or not. 

I have discovered that I would prefer to lie there a moment and collect my thoughts, but I seem to be an embarrassment to everyone, because there I am upright, like the rest of the world, although a bit dazed. Dazed in a maze, in this case. 

The positive side of this is I have now labeled my pitched falls my "osteoporosis tests." If I havenít broken my wrist, Iím still in good shape. Iím still in good shape. 

More of Jo's columns, click HERE

Paraguay comes forth
with commemorative set


Paraguay issued a series of two new stamps honoring the memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. 

At the opening of a two-day anti-terrorism conference in Asuncion for Southern Cone nations, Paraguayan President Luis Gonzalez Macchi and the U.S. State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, Francis Taylor, jointly affixed the ceremonial first postmark, "No to Terrorism," which was placed on all mail postmarked in Paraguay that day. 

Recent wave of insider crimes endangers foundation of country
By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica staff

One goal of criminals of all types now seems to be the infiltration and subversion of legitimate institutions. This was brought home when police arrested in three different cases:

   ē bank employees
   ē workers in a check-printing shop
   ē a telephone company worker
   ē a former casino owner
   ē an assistant to a top judge

And police were looking for the administrator of a restaurant. In all cases, the people are alleged to have used their inside positions to advance a criminal enterprise.

The arrests serve as a caution to foreigners that they cannot accept even the most respected institution on faith. 

The current criminal trend is not new, but the boldness is. Political corruption is a long-standing problem. And a policeman who takes a bribe to forget a ticket or a telephone installer who accepts money to put a business on the top of the waiting list are not new phenomena.

Such persons are taking advantage of the bureaucracy or the creaking infrastructure.

This week, however, investigators said that bank employees were involved in a scheme to pass bad checks and they would tell callers that checks were good when they were not. That was a basic subversion of their function, and it is a step up from the occasional long-standing problem of bank tellers short-changing customers.

The telephone worker was using his knowledge to sidetrack calls about check verification from other banks to a battery of co-conspirators who would pretend to be employees in bank offices. This is not a new trick for swindlers, but the technology now makes the trick easier. And it is unusual for a telephone worker to be so involved.

The crooks in the check scheme spent a year infiltrating confederates into the company that prints the checks for Banco Nacional, thereby assuring the ring of a flood of numbers and information about real accounts.

The restaurant administrator was supplying a ring of credit card forgers with real numbers by helping them clone cards from diners, mostly foreigners, who paid their dinner check that way. Again, a subversion of the basic process. 

The former casino owner was using credit card equipment provided him for use in the casino to fraudulently post charges to unknowing victimsí accounts.

An analysis of the news

Last month, investigators arrested the assistant of a top judge who was involved in letting crooks flee the country before they came to trial. 

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the assistant would forge the judgeís signature and fax paperwork to immigration to lift the exit prohibition against certain criminals awaiting trial. Again, a subversion of the job responsibilities.

In several other cases known to A.M. Costa Rica thieves and credit card crooks managed to use legitimate businesses to move goods and pass false credit card slips. In these cases the crooks obviously had inside help as, for example, they charged $400 (136,000 colons) for purchases at a drug store.

Now smugglers have always used well-connected individuals ó sea captains, customs officials ó to advance their schemes. Recently floral, clothing and food shipments have been found here to be conduits for drugs.

The difference is that such smuggling does not undermine the basic strength of the institution that is being used. Other flowers still are delivered even if some packages contain drugs.

But the recent series of cases here destroys faith in the whole institution. How can anyone accept a check if the person at the  home bank may be lying about funds being available? Who would use a credit card if the merchant might be part of a ring to clone the card and run up huge bills?

How can there be confidence in the courts if a top aide is allowing criminals to flee. 

The various branches of the police agencies in Costa Rica always have been looked down upon because of the belief that widespread corruption and illegality exists. 

Loss of faith is a serious problem for police. Thatís why the Fuerza Publica is presenting itself as a new generation of police with more professionalization.

But with a series of insider crimes like the ones uncovered in the past two months, how is business conducted with failing faith in banks, failing faith in the judicial system and little faith in the safety of even the most basic credit card or bank check?

A.M. Costa Rica photo

The big bandstand in Parque Morazan is getting a facelift, and the job even involves repainting and decorating the interior ceiling of the well-known landmark.

The workers Thursday were grouting the joints of the roof seams and making  sure that the decorative concrete work was brought back to original crispness.

Argentina's president steps down leaving chaos
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Argentina's President Fernando de la Rua resigned late Thursday as an unprecedented wave of violence and social protests washed over the South American nation. The president had issued a call for national unity in the face of Argentina's ever worsening economic and social crisis. 

Just over two years after taking office, de la Rua submitted his resignation to Congress late Thursday after his call for a coalition government was rejected by the main opposition party. 

Carlos Maestro, the head of the Senate Radical Party bloc, confirmed to reporters that de la Rua had stepped down given the grave situation. 

Minutes before the president tendered his resignation, Humberto Roggero, a leading Peronist congressmen, said on national TV that his party would fulfill its opposition role and would not join any type of national unity government. Instead, Roggero said the president's time was up and that the opposition was analyzing the possibility of initiating impeachment proceedings. 

Political analysts said the call for national unity was the president's last card and when his hand didn't play out, he had no other choice but to step down. 
De la Rua, whose administration has implemented a series of eight spending cuts over the two years, had seen his popularity level hit an all-time low well before Wednesday's widespread supermarket looting forced the government to declare a state of siege. 

The president tied his political fortune to that of his economy minister, Domingo Cavallo and despite the outspoken minister's increasingly unpopular austerity measures the president stuck by his man. As late as mid-day Wednesday, the president affirmed his support for Cavallo at a multisectoral meeting at the Catholic Charity Caritas. 

The position was seen as the president's downfall given that no other political leader of any party wants to be linked with Cavallo. 

Argentina hasn't had an acting vice-president since October 2000 when then-Vice President Carlos Alvarez stepped down to protest supposed government involvement in a Senate bribery scandal. Next in line is Senate President Ramon Puerta, a Peronist, who will likely take over as president until elections can be held. 

De la Rua's early departure marks the end of his controversial two-year administration that, when voted into office, was seen by many Argentines as a welcome change from the 10-year Menem administration. He leaves on a day that saw at least five protesters killed in confrontations with security forces around the government house. Another dozen people were killed over the two days in various episodes of looting and violence. 

Default nears, ratings firm says

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK ó Credit rating agency Fitch has said Argentina could soon default on its debt, given the escalating social unrest in Argentina and the resignation of the president and the economy minister.

The rating agency said it expects a broad and disorderly default on about $97 billion worth of debt, and estimated that creditors will be forced to accept at least a 50 percent reduction in the face value of Argentine bonds. Fitch added that Argentina's currency regime, which pegs the peso one-to-one with the U.S. dollar, is no longer viable. 

Fitch's current rating for Argentina is Triple-D, which corresponds to a default. 

Meanwhile, Argentina has confirmed that it serviced its debt payments due this week, rebutting earlier claims by U.S. investment bank JP Morgan that it had defaulted. According to the country's financial representative in Europe, Juan Barboza, the payments were made but faced a temporary technical delay in reaching the investors. 

Fidel tells Cubans
that food will last

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA ó President Fidel Castro told Cubans there would be enough food for them in the coming year. 

Speaking on television late Wednesday, the Cuban leader gave details about recent U.S. food shipments to the island country ó the first such shipments in almost 40 years. He said the cost was at a reasonable price and that the shipments represent about 4 percent of the island's annual food imports. 

The first shipment of 24,000 metric tons of American corn arrived in Havana Sunday. Additional shipments of grain will arrive over the next several months. Another shipment of 455-metric tons of frozen chicken parts also docked Sunday. 

Castro said the food will replace reserves depleted since early November, when Hurricane Michelle devastated crops across the island. The United States offered to provide humanitarian aid to Cuba after the devastation. But Havana said it would rather make direct commercial purchases of U.S. food. 

Ecuador will deport
man linked to coup

By the A.m. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO ó Ecuador says it will deport the suspected leader of Monday's failed coup attempt in Haiti. 

Ecuador's Deputy Foreign Minister Jaime Marchan told reporters his country will deport a former Haitian police officer, Guy Philippe, to Panama, the last country he entered before arriving in Ecuador Tuesday. 

Philippe is wanted by Haitian authorities for his alleged planning of an assault by heavily armed gunmen on Haiti's National Palace. Philippe, the former police chief in the northern city of Cap Haitien, has denied any involvement in the coup attempt. 

The gunmen killed several people before police retook the National Palace. At least seven people including passers-by and some of the attackers died during the fighting.  Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife were not in the palace at the time. 

Journalist who reported
on corruption is on trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ANKARA ó A journalist is on trial here for writing an article about corruption in Turkey's judicial system. The trial is the latest in a series of cases launched against journalists accused of expressing views that insult or threaten the Turkish state. 

Burak Bekdil is a financial affairs commentator for the English-language Turkish Daily News. In August, he wrote an article charging that Turkish politicians exert undue influence over the country's justice system and the system is rife with corrupt officials and judges. 

Shortly after the article appeared, Turkish authorities charged him with insulting the state. If found guilty, he faces up to six years in prison. 

Bekdil, who has denied the charge, said that he does not believe he will get a fair trial.  "Well, I doubt this is going to be a fair trial because I will be tried by the people who think I insulted them," he said. 

He is not the first writer to face such charges in Turkey. The country's constitution and penal code forbid any writing that is considered injurious to the state. Scores of journalists have been convicted and jailed in recent years on charges similar to the one Bekdil is facing. 

"As long as the legislation remains there will be further cases, similar cases. Someone has to launch a campaign, an appeal perhaps. It is the lawmakers, they should change the legislation. They should update the legislation," he explained. 

In October, Turkey's parliament approved reforms to the constitution that relax restrictions on free expression. 

And, the government, led by leftist Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, is considering proposed changes in the penal code that would remove an article penalizing verbal or written criticism against the Turkish state. It is this article that Bekdil and several other prominent journalists, including the pro-Islamic commentator Fehmi Koru, are being prosecuted for violating. 

But legal experts say it remains unclear whether the changes in the constitution and the penal code, when they are officially enacted, will be applied retroactively. Until that is decided, the cases against Bekdil and the other journalists will continue. Bekdil's case resumes Jan. 14. 

Volunteers needed

to wrap 1,000 gifts

for party in Quepos


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volunteers are needed in Quepos because a local womenís organization is putting on a party for 1,000 youngsters Sunday and hands are needed to help wrap gifts.

The organization is Asumofac, and the party will be at 2 p.m. Sunday in front of the Kamuk Hotel. There will be entertainment, food, gifts and activities for adults as well as children, said an organizer. There will be dancing in the streets afterward for adults wishing to celebrate.

Prospective volunteers who speak Spanish can call Asumofac at
777-2020. English speakers can call Robbie Felix at Hotel California for more info at 777-1234, an organizer said.

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