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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Dec. 23, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 254          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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From the staff of A.M. Costa Rica

This has the makings for a record holiday!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The holiday season has all the makings of a record as international tourists flock into the two major international airports.

They will be greeted with roads in the worst condition in memory with little work going on to repair them until 2006.

The Costa Rican Christmas break has started, and nobody wants to miss going to the beach or mountains, despite the roads.

Tránsito police have cranked up patrols, particularly in the Guanacaste area, and at the Nicaraguan border, immigration officials say that about 3,000 Nicaraguans a day are leaving the country to return to their homes for Christmas. They expect a similar number to return right at New Year's.

2006 means a presidential election on the first Sunday in February, but the political parties have called a truce over Christmas, so there are no ads on television or demonstrations of support in the street.

The five-day forecast by the Instituto Meterológico Nacional calls for partly cloudy skies with chances of showers of short
durations all over the country. The Pacific coast resorts will see temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s with a decrease in temperature by a few degrees over the five days.

Hotel and resort owners are mostly full, although some who advertise in A.M. Costa Rica say they will help travelers find lodging even if they do not have space.

Monday is the day of the big horse gathering in San José. Tuesday the annual carnival starts at 4 p.m. Both events are being televised, as is the unique Costa Rican bull fights at the Zapote festival and in Guápiles. Young Ticos will risk death on the horns of a fighting bull to prove something not entirely clear.

Barkeepers in Puntarenas and Golfito will be happy this holiday season because the Asamblea Legislative gave permission Thursday for U.S. Coast Guard anti-drug units to dock in the Pacific harbors. That means the servicemen guarding the drug routes will be getting shore leave.

Although some newspapers will choose not to publish over the holiday season, A.M. Costa Rica will maintain a normal schedule.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 23, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 254

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Photo by Matt Altman
A girl sleeps on the street unprotected

Our reader's opinion

Two religious groups
are helping street kids

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been hearing so many negative things about Costa Rica, that I would be interested in hearing some positive stories about what people are doing here. No matter where a person finds himself he should always try to help others.

Many of us are fortunate to have come from other parts of the world and make substantially more than the average Costa Rican. We can either close our eyes to what is going on around us, or we can do our part to help. No matter how small, doing something is better than doing nothing.

One thing that touched our heart was the kids here in Costa Rica. I have found that Costa Ricans love their children. It is great to see the parents and children in the parks. However, there are different sets of children that get overlooked. There is an orphanage in Guachipelin run by a group of nuns. All of the children have various serious disabilities that bring them there. This is not your picture postcard of children running around smiling. Most of these children can’t even respond to acts of affection. Day after day these nuns tireless give of themselves to these children. I had to stop and look deep withing myself, I am not sure I could do that. When we give, we like to feel good, to see the smile, or a thank you. These nuns get to bury children who for most won’t make it to adulthood.

Another set of children that seems to blend in are the street kids in San José. It is easy to go through San José, and never see them. However, when you stop to look, and get to know them they begin to appear out of the crowd.

It was this group that we felt we could do a little something to help. We would prepare 48 lunches for Saturday and Sunday, and then drive the streets of San José. I am not so sure that it was always the food that they needed, but to be noticed and have someone be kind to them.

Jorge, Stephen, Frankie, Andrew and his brother, José, Aron, 12, David, 14, Christopher, 15, Carlos, Estaban, and others I never learned their names. Theses kids see and experience things that people should not have to. I have seen knives pulled, kids robbed of their clothes, drugs sold and used openly in the streets of San José. These kids are not angels, but they still are children.
There is a home called Genesis Home near Heredia which helps kids off the streets and into a stable environment.  Http://www.lam.org/view.html?id=281 The facility opened in February, 2005, to meet the need of the country’s troubled adolescents. Currently housed in a rented home, it is the first step toward establishing a permanent facility that will eventually house both boys and girls as well as provide vocational education to residents and others.

“There are few centers for adolescents in Costa Rica,” explained David Longworth, a missionary with the Latin American Mission-Canada who is working with Costa Rican Christians to establish the facility. “There are a number of homes for children, but most only care for them through age 12.”

After being here a year my company is now asking that I return back to the States. I worry what will happen to these kids I have come to love. Will they just become one of the many men I see sleeping on the streets. If I was able, I would take several of them back with me. So, the purpose of this letter is just to get people to thinking of what they can do this Christmas, and all through the year to help others. I have listed two groups, neither of which I am associated with. One is run by the Catholic Church, and another by an Evangelical organization.

Matt Altman

EDITOR'S NOTE: We also have written stories about the humanitarian Foundation and its work with street children.

Political parties can now
argue issues online

By Silleny Sanabria Soto
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones has put a new political page on its Web site,  and it is being called a virtual debate.
The page contained party positions on 18 topics, like health, education, free commerce, immigration, agriculture, culture, sports, and environment.

According to Oscar Fonseca, one of the magistrates from the Tribunal, this page gives voters many options to decide who to support. The page shows the biography of the candidates, their opinions and positions about some specific subjects. The Tribunal runs the February elections.

Just eight of the 19 political parties are participating in the  virtual debate. They include the Partido Acción Cuidadana, Patria Primero, Liberación Nacional, Unión para el Cambio, Unión Patriotica, Renovación Costarricense, Unidad Social Cristiana and Rescate Nacional.
The other 11 political parties can post responses to the virtual debate. Just one party, Fuerza Democratica, confirmed Monday that it will not participate, Fonseca said.

The page also contains information on how to make complaints about any violations committed by the campaigning parties.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 23, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 254

Are we safer now than we were in 1993?
There is considerable concern in the U.S. among the press, some members of Congress and others over the recent discovery that President George Bush has authorized phone tapping without getting judicial authorization.  Many people feel that the civil liberties of U.S. citizens are being compromised.  President Bush has been defending his actions as not only legal but also necessary, along with the Patriot Act, to protect the American people as well as other countries from further terrorist attacks. 

I decided to check on whether or not these measures have been effective.  The best way I could do that, I thought, was to check statistics.  The U.S. State Department has them on what it labels “Significant Terrorist Incidents.”  Between Feb. 26, 1993, when the World Trade Center was first bombed, until December 2000, there were 75 terrorist attacks throughout the world, including the domestic attack in Oklahoma City.  This was when President Clinton was treating terrorist attacks as crimes, when there was no army looking for Bin Laden, and no Homeland Security Department or functioning Patriot Act.

Without this help, there was an average of 10 attacks a year.
From Sept. 11, 2001, beginning with the hijacked planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York, until December 2003, there were a total of 96 “Terrorist Incidents.”  Removing the 16 attacks in Iraq that were included, that leaves 80 attacks in two years and four months.  That is as recent as the State Department statistics go. 

According to news reports, attacks increased threefold in 2004, and estimates are as high as 650 attacks.  So, roughly speaking, the world has gone from about an average of 10 attacks a year to well over 40. The report, of course, does not mention those that were avoided. 

Another statement that has been made over and over is that the administration must be doing something right because there have been no foreign terrorist attacks in the U.S. for the four years following 9/11.  I guess President Clinton must have been doing something right, too, because there were no further terrorist attacks by foreigners for nearly eight years.

I was prompted to check on these figures because of President Bush’s statement that being able to spy on people without having to go through channels has
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

made the world safer.   It is like the statement that  “Democracies don’t go to war; democracies are peaceful countries.”  That he repeats just about every time he defends going to war in Iraq.

I often wonder why that statement is taken unchallenged when the United States, the most famous democracy in the world, has gone to war no less than six times (declared and undeclared) since the end of World War II.  That is more than just about any other country in the industrial world, democracy or not. This is not to question the justification of those wars, just the statement.  Perhaps he should just amend the statement and say, “Democratic countries don’t go to war, unless they feel they have to.”

Meanwhile I received an e-mail from Lucy.  She said that friends and family members in the U.S. who received Christmas cards from her notified her that the envelopes had been sliced open on the side — every one of them.  The one to her grandson that contained $10 was the only one that was resealed so she figures it was not mail thieves.  Lucy’s husband, Ken, was in the Navy in World War II, and her son was killed fighting in Vietnam, so she is puzzled as to how she could be considered a possible threat.  But then, Lucy and her husband are living in Costa Rica.   Maybe the “Big Ears” of the NSA confused this popular destination of tourism with a hotbed of terrorism.

This is not that farfetched.  When the unfortunate Costa Rican-American was shot on the tarmac at the Miami airport, the spokespersons for Homeland Security said that what made him so sinister was the fact that he was carrying his backpack in front.  Anyone who travels in Central or South America knows that half the people with backpacks carry them in front to avoid pickpockets.

Meanwhile, may we all be safer as we celebrate whichever holiday we celebrate during this season of so many holidays. 

Readers respond to listing of top-10 restaurants
Last week my mailbox began to fill before dawn with e-mails from so many of you about that morning’s readers’ choice column which listed up to 10 favorite restaurants in each of several categories, your favorites, not necessarily mine. I did use my editorial prerogative to eliminate a few, mostly because of hygienic reasons, but I did keep in some despite attitude problems or pricing shenanigans, if the food was good.

By and large the responses were quite favorable and for that I thank you, but the credit is yours collectively more than mine.
The biggest complaint came in four different communications: "You (I) should have included phone numbers, addresses, some mention of the quality of the food, hours and detailed directions from central San Jose." Points well taken, but they are beyond the physical space allotted to the column in Friday’s publication. Sounds like a fine idea for a book.

As you know, we began to include all that information in the weekly reviews, including the phone number, during 2005. The request for expanded directions to assist cabbies from San Jose hotels is probably beyond our scope. The hotelier should be able to direct the less well-informed drivers and make reservations for visitors.
In the category of “Should Have Been on the List” there were votes for Spice in the Pan-Asian class, Inta Raymi (Alajuela) in the Peruvian group, Café de Paris (Heredia) and Voulez Vous in the French category, La Piazzetta among on the Italian list and Hotel Crystal Ballena, unspecified as to category.

We shall surely expand the list next year. Four interesting suggestions were El Invernadero and De L’Ola Del Mar for the “Best Restaurant” category even though both have gone out of business and CIMA cafeteria for “best steakhouse”. I like their steaks very much, but don’t see the hospital cafeteria as a steakhouse. Another reader wanted to know why I hadn’t mentioned Jimmy the Greek on the list or reported back on my promise to give it another try. It, too, closed its doors.
In the “Should not have been on the list” category, the communications were surprising, but thoughtful and deserve to be shared. One diner didn’t like Sunday brunch at La Luz. Coincidently, four of us also had brunch there and three were underwhelmed despite obvious pains by the kitchen to make the presentations attractive and to use expensive ingredients.

However, I have heard raves from other diners, especially since the recent infusion of New Orleans Creole items on the menu and some shared expertise from one of my all time favorite restaurants, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. La Luz stays on the list.

Another thought that La Lluna de Valencia should be excluded because it only served paella. It also serves soups and tapas, but yes, paella is its main attraction.

My biggest surprise was that two people complained about Jurgen’s, a top echelon, fine European restaurant well known for perfect service and well prepared, though somewhat old fashioned food.

One person thought his appetizer and main course were poorly prepared and lacking taste, and another acknowledged that he had marvelous food there on prior occasions, but it had lost its ability to deliver quality consistently. Yet a third reader continues to call Jurgen’s his favorite restaurant in the entire country.

I have reservations for dinner there for my birthday and will add my two cents to the debate about consistency. Derrick, the imaginative and masterful
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


 chef at Lazy Wave in Tamarindo, has left to open his own restaurant. I hear that Lazy Wave is still good, but down a notch. Another much-ballyhooed Tamarindo area chef, Shalomi, has switched to the Copacabana. We shall have to keep an eye out for both.

In comments during 2005, consistency has been a word of praise in descriptions by patrons of L’ Olivo, Sale E Pepe, Machu Picchu and L’Ile de France.
Gone from the scene along with El Invernadero, De L’Ola Del Mar, and Jimmy the Greek, are TicoMex, Bokaos, Sensai, Balcon de Peruana, Restaurante Habana Vieja and many more.
The award for arising from the ashes like Phoenix is shared by Il Retorno, reclaiming its reputation for excellence, Flor de Loto, once a great Chinese venue, then decline and now renewed acclaim, and Mangiamo. After a slow start and initial problems, it is grooving.
Colbert deserves a separate award for belated success, perhaps the Poco a Poco Award. Joel has never faltered. All he was lacking on his remote hilltop in Vara Blanca, was a larger clientele. It is many times larger now, but still small. He has attracted a few tourism minibuses and has received deserved favorable reviews in travel guides. If you want to sample his marvelous French bread without heading to Poas, it is now served at L’Ile de France (yes, it is misspelled in the list).
Whenever I see mention of donations of food, services or even their home from Maria and Robert from Tin Jo, I am amazed at their capacity to try to replenish the well and give of themselves. It appears that they have been doing nothing else (except for running a magnificent restaurant) for most of their lives.
Another banner year for them, 2005.
Vallarta Vickie (what a great name) says I omitted the most important category of all, American food. She praises Rock & Roll Pollo, their meatloaf and mashed potatoes and ribs. I second her endorsement, as well as Tom’s for The Pub and its American comfort food. Please check out the “Gringo Bar & Grill” category. They are both included.
Marjorie feels that I have slighted Heredia. She thinks Oporto should be included. Actually, Marjorie, so do I. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit well as a top 10 entrant in any of the categories, but I did give it a commendable review early in the year. She loves the crepes at Café De Paris, but none of our readers mentioned it to me until the list came out. She also mentions OKY (?) in Jardines de Santa Lucia, about which I know nothing as yet.

In the Caribbean category, I did include Heredia’s own Delicias Caribeñas de Mami which I also reviewed and touted as one of the better values anywhere. Mitch is coming to Heredia soon and wanted dining tips. I hope these suffice.
Larry wants to know where to eat to see beautiful women. Try the food court at Multiplaza. My wife says the handsome guy watching there is also well above average

A.M. Costa Rica

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Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 23, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 254

Health agency claims:
Understanding about flu is skewed by confusion

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Officials at the Pan American Health Organization said this week that the spread of avian influenza from Asia to Europe has raised public concern that the H5N1 virus could reach the Americas.

According to a health organization press release, such concern is justified but in some cases reflects confusion about the differences between bird flu and pandemic flu.

"Bird flu and pandemic flu are two different things," said Otavio Oliva, the organizatin's top expert on viral diseases.

"Both are a threat,” he added, “but the threats they pose to human and animal health are distinct. The danger is that people might think wrongly that the chicken in the supermarket or in their neighbor’s backyard is going to give them pandemic flu. Fortunately for everyone, that’s very unlikely.”

Health experts say that even health officials contribute to public confusion by using a single term — bird flu — to refer to three different phenomena: avian flu in birds, avian flu in people and pandemic flu.

An avian flu virus could mutate into a form that has acquired the ability to spread easily among humans, creating pandemic flu. Although health officials say the likelihood is growing that pandemic could arise, no pandemic has started yet.

Highly pathogenic H5N1, the cause of current concern, is an avian virus that has caused the death or
destruction of tens of millions of birds in Asia and cost that region’s poultry industry billions of dollars.

In five countries where the virus is now endemic in birds — Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam — H5N1 in rare instances has jumped to humans, causing almost 140 cases of illness including more than 70 deaths.

Fear of H5N1 has grown in recent weeks as the virus spreads from Asia to Greece, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine, apparently carried by wild birds. No human cases have been reported in those countries.

Health organization Assistant Director Carissa Etienne has warned that the H5N1 virus poses a significant threat to the poultry industry in the Americas, and a major threat to human health if it evolves into a strain that is easily transmissible between humans.

International efforts have focused mainly on fighting the virus among animals in Asia. The World Health Organization is working with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health to help Asian countries fight the virus in birds to reduce the likelihood that the disease could mutate to become contagious among humans.

The World Health Organization also has developed a contingency plan to contain a human pandemic virus where it emerges, using anti-viral drugs to treat people near the outbreak origin. Such a strategy has never been tried, and no one knows if it will succeed.

A growing number of countries outside Asia are now engaged in preventive efforts and in preparing for a potential human pandemic.

40 big projects in Caribbean and Latin America will need U.S. exports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A two-day conference sponsored by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency will focus on near-term U.S. export opportunities, totaling $750 million, associated with major energy and transportation projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, the agency said.

The conference, to be held March 6 and 7 in Washington, will feature 40 projects financed by development banks.

"The development of the transportation and energy sectors in Latin America and the Caribbean is essential to promoting private sector-led growth throughout the region," the U.S. Trade and Development Agency
added.  Regional development needs will offer important business opportunities for U.S. firms, with benefits accruing to both sides, the agency added.

Throughout the conference, representatives from Latin American and Caribbean governments will present projects and will be available for private meetings with representatives of U.S. companies.  During the meetings, U.S. firms will have the opportunity to introduce their products and services directly to project sponsors and initiate relationships with key decision-makers. 

Conference attendees will receive a copy of a briefing book that contains project details.  For further facts about the event, vendors can visit the conference Web site at www.ustda1on1.com.

Jo Stuart
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