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(506) 223-1327         Published Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 255               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Caribbean pounded by heavy rains for Christmas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Christmas brought downpours and more flooding to the Caribbean coast and Costa Rica's northern zone.

Over the two days Limón centro was hit with 232.6 millimeters of rain, some 9.2 inches, according to the automatic weather station installed at the Limón airport.

The bulk of the rain had stopped falling by afternoon, but the national emergency center declared an alert because rivers were running out of their banks after having been supercharged by runoff from the mountains.

The emergency commission said that rivers had flooded out of their banks in Matina, Siquirres, Limón centro and Talamanca, as well as in B Line, highway 32, Río Blanco, Limón 2000 and the lower part of the Río Reventazón in Siquirres.

The Instituto Meteorologico Nacional said that
conditions should return to normal today in the Caribbean area. San José got some rain Tuesday morning, but it was not the downpour that the Caribbean got.

Turrialba got 108.6 millimeters (4.28 inches) since 7 a.m. Tuesday and 63.6 millimeters (2.5 inches) from 7 a.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday. 

Weather was mostly dry in the Pacific and north Pacific where most of the holiday travelers have settled.

Although most of Costa Rica welcomes the dry season at Christmas, the Caribbean has weather opposite to the rest of the nation. The north winds that dry out the Central Valley and the Pacific coast encourage the buildup of moisture and clouds along the Caribbean coast.

At last report the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias had not mobilized any personnel although some locations are designated as shelters.

The funeral was a happy event that did not cloud Christmas
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It was a good death. Everyone agreed it was a good death.

There were smiles all around the casket, and Guillermo's death did not cast a cloud over Christmas even though the funeral was just a day before Noche Buena or Christmas Eve.

His eight children were there wearing smiles. Many of his 27 surviving brothers and sisters were there, although the thoughts of their own mortality made them less than festive.

Guillermo Parra Naranjo had been a fighter. He fought his final disease for two years longer than doctors had predicted. He was 66, and had led a good life although not a wealthy one. One of his children was adopted in infancy when he found out that the neighbors had left the boy alone for more than 24 hours. He had that kind of heart.

He had time to talk to his children individually and in groups to let them know that his death was just a continuation of the life cycle. He joked to the last and even made passes at his wife as she tended his final needs.

The viewing, as is traditional in Costa Rica, began just a few hours after his death at home in his own bed. The local church honored him by allowing the viewing to be held in a small chapel. Usually viewings are at home or for the better-off in the local funeral parlor.

The family gathered almost at once and spent the entire night in prayer and low conversations. As in every culture some relatives are not seen 
sad and happy

until there is a funeral or a wedding. Somehow in Costa Rica the news of the death travels. Word of mouth is the main source although television stations run short lists of the day's dead and the upper classes and the business class are honored by display ads in the major newspapers.

Guillermo was popular. He battled alcoholism and won. Then he turned to church work. There was no shortage of visitors at his wake or at the funeral.

The 10 a.m. Mass of Resurrection preceded another ceremony in a new section of the cemetery at San Francisco de Dos Rios. Guillermo has a lot of room for himself, his children joked.

There is a danger at major holidays that death or another tragedy will mar the festivities — not just for one year but for many years to come.

Here is a case where death enhanced the holiday. The way Guillermo faced his end with courage and courtesy will be remembered for years. Children will tell their grandchildren who will tell their grandchildren.

And his long fight and fatal finish will become yet another family memory in the widely distributed Costa Rican family.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday Dec. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 255

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Horse parade is today,
and festivals are running

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the day for the horse parade through the downtown. Less than 1,000 horses and their riders have signed up for the event, but hundreds of participants never bother to sign up and just ride the distance, from Parque la Sabana to Plaza Víquez along Paseo Colón and Avenida 2.

The event is sure to bring out thousands of spectators. The Municipalidad de San José estimates that 3,000 riders will participate. Many will sign up just before the event.

The starting time is set for 1 p.m., and the proceeds of the registrations go to support the Hospicio de Huerfanos de San José.

As most events downtown do, the horse parade, known as the Tope Nacional or "national encounter," will block traffic. Buses and motorists will have to find alternate routes by at least 11 a.m.

The festivities have already started at the Fiestas de San José. The municipality has taken over the management of the end-of-the-year festival in Zapote. The big attraction, the Costa Rican bull fights, got off to a soggy start Tuesday.

A competing festival is being presented in Alajuela at the auto race track in La Guácima. There are bulls there, too.

The Zapote festival runs through Jan. 6. The big attraction is the new bull ring where spectators buy 4,000 colons on up for a seat. That's $8, but there is a special price for families for 15,000 colons or $30.

In the ring are informal bull fighters who torment a series of bulls that are allowed into the enclosure. Localized rain dampened the debut Tuesday and made the ring surface slippery. That's not a good condition for runners trying to avoid bulls.

The festival presented a fireworks display Tuesday evening. An artists fair is being presented nearby.

Thursday a festival starts in nearby Desamparados. This is called the Carnival Nacional.  Shirley Alvarez and Ricardo Granados, who participated in the Bailando por un Sueño Internacional dance competition are the marshals.

The Cruz Roja is organizing the event along with the municipality. The proceeds will benefit the Cruz Roja.

The festival kicks off Thursday at 1 p.m. with a parade starting at the crossroads of San Miguel and Aserrí and ending at the Cementerio de Desamparados.

Queen takes to Internet
to deliver Yule message

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II has joined the YouTube generation in posting her annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth on the popular video Web site. The move has come on the 50th anniversary of her first televised Christmas speech.

Fifty years ago, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II for the first time used the then new technology of television to deliver her Christmas Day message.

"Her majesty the Queen sends her Christmas message to her people throughout the Commonwealth," announced the television announcer.  "That it is possible some of you see me today, it is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us,"  said queen.

A half century later the queen is still using the technology of the day to deliver her message. And this year, for the first time, her broadcast is being distributed on the YouTube video-sharing Internet site.

For the 81-year-old monarch, change it seems, is inevitable.

"One of the features of growing old is the heightened awareness of change. To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime, it also makes you aware of what has remained constant," she said.

One of constants the queen said, is the importance of the family and of helping others less fortunate.

"It is all too easy to turn a blind eye, to pass by on the other side, and leave it to experts and professionals," said the queen. "All the great religious teaching of the world press home the message that everyone has a responsibility to care for the vulnerable."

The queen as well praised those in the armed forces serving away from their families overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I pray that all of you who are missing those who are dear to you will find strength and comfort in your families and friends," she added.

And despite the passage of time, the essence of the queen's message this Christmas remained largely the same as it was a half century ago.

"Wherever these words find you and whatever circumstances, I want to wish you all a blessed Christmas," concluded the Queen.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 255

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A spiny pocket mouse checks out a flower from a  chiverre or ayote vine during daily partols for seeds.
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A.M. Costa Rica

Seed-collecting pocket mouse calls Guanacaste home
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

When Santa Claus came through Guanacaste early Tuesday, the mouse that was not stirring probably was of the spiny pocket variety.

Rodent diversity is relatively thin in Costa Rica with few squirrels and no chipmunks, no imported species like prairie dogs, and fewer rats and mice. A few species are nonetheless of considerable importance to the local ecology.

In the dry forests of Guanacaste province, the spiny pocket mouse, Liomys salvini, is generally the most common small mammal. Reproduction is concentrated in the dry season so abundance is lowest in January and February and increases to the start of the rains in May or June. Survival is at most 18 months so most individuals breed only one year.

L. salvini is primarily a seed predator rather than a disperser. A local name guardafiesta apparently refers to its hoarding of seeds. A relationship with the Guanacaste
tree (Enterolobium) has been studied in detail at Parque Nacional Santa Rosa. The mouse is such an efficient collector of seeds it was suggested as an agent (among others) in the lack of reproduction of that emblematic tree.

The only areas with limited mouse populations are open, hot sites where seedlings are unlikely to survive.

Horses, and presumably the Pleistocene megafauna that originally dispersed Guanacaste seeds, eagerly eat the seed pods and should carry seeds to more favorable places. However, L. salvini knows about that too, and seeds in horse dung are immediately carried off to be cached and eaten. In experiments, as many as 500 seeds buried in the center of 15 kilograms of dung were removed in one or two nights. As the mouse is territorial to some extent, this would be the work of not more than two or three individuals.

Rats in San José and other populated areas are of the Eurasian species that has done so much damage to wildlife all over the world when introduced by man, not to mention its role as a vector for human disease.

Christmas party in Jacó
has gifts and food for 1,100

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 1,100 youngsters received the benefit of cooperation between the Municipality de Garabito and the Central Pacific Chamber of Commerce.

The event was a party with gifts and food for all Saturday in Jacó with youngsters and parents also from Quebrada Amarilla, Playa Hermosa and Playa Herradura.

The day also saw typical dances and the distribution of gifts.

Local organizations and several dozen local businesses participated to provide activities for the youngsters. Also helping were members of the Cruz Roja and the local firemen, according to the chamber.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 255

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Chávez plans to explain delay in release of rebels' hostages
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan officials said President Hugo Chávez plans to meet with the news media today to discuss the delayed release of three hostages being held by Colombia's largest leftist rebel group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

The rebel group said earlier this month that it would release to Chávez, or someone he designates, the former Colombian vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, her young son, Emmanuel, who was born in captivity, and former lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez.

It was not clear when the FARC planned to let the hostages go. Family members of the hostages had hoped the release would be before Christmas.
President Chavez was involved in hostage negotiations until Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended the effort last month, saying the Venezuelan leader had overstepped his role as mediator. Chávez responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Colombia.

The rebels hope to trade dozens of hostages for the freedom of hundreds of their comrades captured by Colombian authorities.

The move could lead to the release of other hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was abducted with Rojas in February 2002. Betancourt turned 46 on Tuesday.

Rojas's son was fathered by one of her guerrilla captors.
Gonzalez was abducted in 2001.

Raúl Castro reports that his brother is gaining weight and exercising regularly
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The brother of Fidel Castro says the Cuban leader's health is improving. Interim Cuban President Raúl Castro says his 81-year old brother is in full control of his mental faculties, and has been exercising regularly — regaining weight and muscle mass.

President Fidel Castro temporarily handed over power to his brother Raúl in July of 2006, after undergoing surgery.
Raúl Castro spoke about his brother's health Monday while meeting with parliamentary candidates in the province of Santiago de Cuba.  Raúl Castro said Fidel Castro still remains very involved in the country's political affairs.

Last week state television read a letter from Fidel Castro in which he said he would not obstruct the rise of a new generation of leaders.  It was the first suggestion from Fidel Castro that he might permanently step down from the presidency.

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