A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327      Published Friday, Dec. 30, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 259          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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From all the staffers at A.M. Costa Rica

There is no shortage of decisions in New Year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new year 2006 may not be the end of the world for Costa Rica, but it is a time filled with uncertainty.

Presidential and legislative elections Feb. 5 provide clear choices for the nation's future even though few but the politicians seem to be wrapped up in the campaigning which starts afresh Monday.

The free trade treaty with the United States is on the table in the Asamblea Legislativa, but lawmakers have given themselves a vacation until after the elections. A lame duck legislature will serve until those elected are sworn in during the first week of May.

Also on the table is the so-called fiscal reform plan, a massive tax restructuring that would generate $500 million more in taxes a year. Lawmakers seem reluctant to squeeze a half billion more out of the private sector, but there is ample evidence that the current system is unfair and very inefficient.

The average household has been watching the cost of living rise. Despite official statistics to the contrary, many feel that their disposable income available after necessities has been cut drastically. Ditto for gasoline prices.

For expats the revision of rules implementing the new immigration law are of vital importance. Not much will happen until the law takes effect in August, but the Devil is in the details for those who seek residency here.

And many expats are watching the local real estate market. Will prices continue to climb? Many have made significant investments betting on the continuation of the bullish trend.

Creditors of the defunct Villalobos high-interest borrowing scheme are expecting
a trial sometime this year of Oswaldo Villalobos, one of the two brothers who ran the operation. But the truth is that the trial of Oswaldo means little until fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho can be brought before judges.

Another fugitive, Luis Milanes, who ran a similar high-flying enterprise, has not been seen since November 2002 when these operations began to crumble. This despite his above-average height and bulk.

Health officials of a new government are expected to try harder to stem the dengue wave that swept the country this rainy season. That was a major disaster for the Pacheco government, but nothing compared to the deterioration of the country's road system. And the hope is that the hurricane season will be kinder to the country.

A $100 million bond issue is supposed to get road repair contractors back to work.

Two former presidents still face corruption charges and a third is in Europe declining to come home. The current president, Pacheco, still is the subject of a campaign funding investigation. Some resolutions should come from these cases this year.

And the beginning of the year will see the trial of the Rev. Minor Calvo and others who are accused of murdering radio reporter Parmenio Medina in 2001. A trial in the Christmastime 2003 murder of magazine journalist Ivannia Mora also begins this year.

But in the hearts of Costa Ricans, all of the previous crises and near crises take second place to what is really important:

June 9 Costa Rica's national team will meet host Germany in the opening session of the World Cup, the soccer football championship tournament.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 30, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 259

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It's not summer yet,
the weather shows

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though under normal circumstances the seasonal rains would be depleted this close to the new year, the invierno or winter this year was anything but.  It seems a little of the thoroughly drenching rainy season may follow Costa Rica into the new year. 

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional forecasts short downpours falling on the Central Valley and the entire Pacific Coast this afternoon.  By nightfall, the rains should clear up, the weather institute said.  The trend will halt briefly but the rain should be back by Monday, the second day of the new year, said the institute's five-day forecast. 

The busier-than-average Atlantic hurricane season is to blame for the extra rain the institute said.  But despite the rain, the weather institute describes the end of the year as a good one for the country.  The daily temperatures should rise throughout the country while the nights will remain cool, the institute said. 

Use of drama for peace
is topic of workshop

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A workshop held by the Friends for Peace Center will teach people from the United States and Costa Rica to work together to create a more peaceful world through the use of theater.  That's the hope of Steven Hawkins. 

Hawkins is organizing the week-long workshop to help facilitate change within groups and individuals.  The workshop, “Dramatic Problem Solving:  A Workshop in Interactive Theatre for Social Change,” will be held twice daily from Tuesday through Jan. 7 from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, contact Hawkins at 416-3869 or 297-3668 or at elyhawkins@yahoo.com. 

Dutch main consumers
of Costa Rican pineapples

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Consumers in Holland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan among other nations, all drink pineapple juice from Costa Rican plantations.  According to national production figures, the export of this fruit has exceeded 30,000 metric tons this year.  That's worth some $21 million, said the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.  

The principal markets for Costa Rican pineapples are Holland, which receives 77 percent of the total export, followed by the United Kingdom with 12 percent and the United States with 10 percent. 

Foreign sales of the fruit have been rising, the agriculture ministry said.  In 2002 the country sent 11,000 metric tons worth $8.5 million.  In 2003, exports reached 15,000 metric tons, worth $11 million.  Last year, Costa Rica exported 26,500 metric tons of pineapple worth $19.4 million, the agriculture ministry said.

Costa Rica has more than 59,000 acres of pineapple farmed by approximately 1,000 farmers, the agriculture ministry said. 

New employee search
launched by investigators

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization has openings for 50 individuals who want to be detectives or hold other positions in law enforcement. The organization is an agency of the judicial branch.

Offices throughout the country will be accepting applications starting today.  Persons who would like to speak with Jorge Rojas Vargas, the director of the organization regarding topics like salary or benefits, may call him at the main headquarters in San José. 

The offices where applications are accepted are: Corredores, Liberia, Nicoya, Cañas, Puntarenas, Ciudad Quesada, Alajuela, Guápiles, Cartago, Heredia, Limón and Pérez Zeledón.  Applications are accepted at the headquarters in San José, too.

Monteverde milk plan
would hike production

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 67 farmers associated with the Cámara de Productores de Leche de Monteverde met with officials from several organizations to come up with a plan to  improve their efficiency. 

The estimated cost of the project will reach 1.3 billion colons ($2.6 million), officials estimate.  The funds will provide for the purchase of livestock, the establishment of plans in the case of temporary problems, equipment to preserve the milk and setting up of the infrastructure that will permit the day-to-day management of the livestock among other necessities. 

Officials hope that the project will help small farmers in Monteverde raise their daily output from an average of 229 kilos of milk per farm per day to 460 kilos per farm per day. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 30, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 259

The holiday dangers come wrapped in chocolate
The end of another year in Costa Rica is fast approaching.  As I have mentioned before, I am not particularly fond of this time of year.  It is not just Christmas and what has become of the white Christmas of my childhood, attending midnight Mass in the one Catholic churches in the village where I lived and then returning home to open presents and eat a late night supper with my family.  And then driving to Jamestown in the back of my uncle’s bakery truck (where we kids sang Christmas carols at the top of our lungs), to enjoy Christmas day with all of the relatives on my mother’s side.  We exchanged gifts only with the immediate family, as I recall. Christmas shopping was an exciting affair filled with secrets about what gift you had bought for whom. 

But there was not the mad gobbling up of everything in sight, of wanting more and more things for Christmas. 

Perhaps it is just perception.  But I feel this consumerism and disposable goods society is becoming apparent even in Costa Rica.  So, generally, I just sort of lie low through the whole season and wait for the New Year.  Knowing it will either be better or worse than this past year, but seldom the same. 

But, in fact, it is not the happy times of Christmas seasons past that makes today’s week-long celebration a time to get through for many of us who don’t feel like celebrating.  It is all of the unhappy Christmases in between.  The experiences that made them unhappy are as varied as the people and sometimes of our own doing.  So if you meet a bah humbug sort of person just be tolerant. 

My friend Joan does something positive to beat the season’s blues. She does for others.  She has parties for the neighborhood children and their parents. I just try to do something very unChristmaslike.

This year I decided to visit the Casino Europa in the Hotel Radisson.  It is a short distance from the middle of the city, and being unfamiliar with the bus routes to get there (and all of the bus routes have been temporarily changed because of the parades in the middle of the city) I took a taxi.  The casino is in
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

the basement but once there, as in most casinos, you have no sense of what lies outside.  The Europa has all of the typical slot machines, card tables and canasta roulette that other casinos have.  It is smaller than the Colonial, a casino in the center of the city, but roomier than most.

I learned from a frequent visitor that they served food, cafeteria style, every evening from 6:30 to 8:30.  I found the food not as elegantly served as at the Colonial, but it was very tasty.  The employees seemed to be having a good time, which adds to the pleasure of the player.

Taking a taxi home was one of the more interesting and scary experiences I have had of late.  When I told the taxista, “Sabana Norte,” he proceeded to take me on a wildly circuitous route through a part of the city I have never seen, the streets were steep and narrow and winding, sometimes we simply doubled back on ourselves.  I began to think he was, in fact, abducting me.  Timidly I asked what barrio we were in.  “Barrio Mexico,” he said.  Eventually I recognized the street that crosses Sabana Este.  We were approaching it from the opposite direction taxis usually do.  I relaxed.  It was such an interesting drive I have decided to try it by bus.  I think the Barrio Cruz bus may go through there. 

With some days ahead of me, I decided to make some fudge candy for a little girl who loves my fudge.  I even dipped it in chocolate and made bon bons for her.  It turned out so good, I found myself testing a piece every hour or so.  It is in danger of being gone before I find a box in which to put it.  I decided that maybe another trip to the casino was in order, just to stay away from my candy.  My choice was either to gain weight or lose money over this holiday season.  Is it any wonder I am not fond of Christmas? 

Roast lamb like Grandmother used to make
You might surmise, that after vacationing in New Zealand and Australia, Joan and I have had our fill of the least common of all Tico meats, lamb. Not so.
In search of another option to savor my favorite red meat, I took my wife and a friend to Beirut for its ballyhooed slowly roasted lamb ribs and shoulder.

A long-time local, originally from Lebanon, told me about the dish while visibly salivating at a United Nations function in San José quite a while back. I never forgot the look of rapture she wore while describing the lamb.
Beirut sits on a corner 200 meters north of Rosti Pollo in Sabana Norte. The effusive owner/chef loves to extol the virtues of seasoning lamb with 11 different herbs and spices and roasting it for five hours until it all but falls off the bones. When queried, he admitted to using garlic and three kinds of onion. I also tasted sumac, and he nodded when I asked him.

My follow up question was whether he used a typical Lebanese herb mix called zahter (or za’ter or zaater). Again he nodded yes. “ I can’t divulge the recipe,” he countered .” It is from my grandmother.” Well, zahtar contains thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds and sumac. Add three kinds of onion, garlic, salt and pepper (probably Syrian red pepper called flefle halibi) and we have 10. The 11th herb, I would guess to be oregano.
The three of us shared a combination appetizer platter (mezza) for two (¢8,950) and followed it with individual orders of roast lamb (¢7,500) and a single portion of kneffe (¢1,800) to share among us along with cardamom-flavored coffee (¢750 each). Add a glass of lemonade, tip and tax and the total was just under ¢40,000. Not a cheap lunch, but an enormous savory (as in both “tasty” and “ to be savored”) feast.
The mezzes included whole pitas and fried pita pieces, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage rolls, olives, labne — yogurt creamy cheese, baba ghanouj  — a garlic eggplant puree, houmos bi tahini — garbanzo and sesame seed puree, falafel, and tabule.

The main course obscured an underlying large platter with a mound on tender lamb chunks and slices covered with a thick gravy-like paste of the 11 flavor enhancers and virtually no fat; fatuch — a toasted pita salad, roasted potato and a lentil and rice pilaf. The mini-cups of cardamom coffee were perfect after so much delicious food.

We tried the kneffe only because we had had a dozen or more different desserts of the same name in Syria 12 years ago, and were curious to see the Lebanese variation. It was unique, another of Grandma’s secret recipes — a rich cheese custard layer topped with toasted cornflake crumbs, bathed in syrup flavored with rose flower water.

Intending only to sample a bit, we licked up every last drop.
The rest of the menu offered less expensive meats, poultry, appetizers and desserts, all of them, I have been assured by a regular diner, well-prepared.

***  $$-$$$$ Tel: 296-9622. Tuesday thru Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed after 5 on Sunday and all day Monday.
In the Middle East and North Africa, sumac seems to supplant citrus, vinegar and tamarind as the souring agent of choice. It is only mildly astringent, minimally piquant and has a nice fruity and slightly smoky flavor. It is also used for all kinds of GI upsets. I use it sprinkled on chicken, lamb, beef, pork and even fish before grilling or roasting and to season olive oil for dipping (heat the olive oil and sumac briefly to mix). I use it liberally for roasts and slow braises, but my all-time favorite lamb dish is a
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


combination of recipes from a Syrian friend and an Assyrian chef. It is great for entertaining.

Favorite lamb recipe

Have the butcher butterfly a seven- or eight-pound leg of lamb so the meat comes off the bone as a single roughly rectangular piece of nearly uniform thickness.

Marinate the meat at least overnight or up to two days in two cups of red wine, one cup of pomegranate juice, half a cup of lime juice, a minced onion, a few sprigs of rosemary and four cloves of mashed garlic. Pat dry and rub the surface to coat with a paste made by mixing a tablespoon of sesame oil with a tablespoon of zahtar or comparable mixture of sumac and  marjoram.
Broil for only a few minutes on each side on a rack above a pan close to the heat. The paste will smoke and burn a little. Don’t fret. Broiling time will depend on the thickness of the meat. I slice into a corner every few minutes to avoid overdone lamb.

As it starts to go from red toward pink inside, remove the meat. Sprinkle with salt on each side and let the lamb rest for ten minutes. Slice thin against the grain as you would a London broil or a beef brisket.
The easy version of a sauce for the meat is to reduce the marinade to half by boiling, when the lamb is removed, to deglaze the broiler pan with another half cup of the red wine, to combine the two, simmer while the meat is resting and serve on the side in a gravy boat.

For a richer sauce, you may have the butcher cut the lamb bones into chunks and you roast them dark brown in a pan with a few carrots, several ribs of celery and a large onion. Add the ingredients including all the caramelized bits stuck to the pan to a pot of water. Mix in a tablespoon of the marinade and simmer for at least two hours, until the volume is reduced to about a pint of liquid. Strain the sauce, deglaze the broiler pan as above, combine the two liquids and heat and serve in similar fashion.
Serve with couscous or roasted potatoes and a vegetable of your choice.

Grilled eggplant, onion and red pepper slices go very well. You might want to follow it with a light salad of tomato, cucumber and feta dressed with lime juice, oregano, salt and pepper and topped with a few toasted pine nuts or almonds.

I like a glass of full bodied rich red wine with it, such as a cabernet from California (Sterling), Chile (Frontera) or South Africa (Hamilton Russel). And most importantly, invite me over when you make it.
Sumac is available in several Costa Rican markets as a dark, rust colored powder. The red whole dried berries are scarce, but appear from time to time. I haven’t seen zahtar here yet. You can substitute maracuya (passion fruit) juice if you can’t find pomegranate. If you are curious about other sumac recipes and have ethnic cook books at home, it is spelled sammak in Arabic countries, sommacco in Italy, sumach in Germany and zumaque in Spain.

A.M. Costa Rica

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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 30, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 259

Ocean census revealing many new species of life
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scientists from around the globe are taking stock of the world's oceans. The Census of Marine Life is a 10-year, $1 billion effort to identify and catalog the underwater world. The census — which began in 2000 — marks its midway point with colorful discoveries worldwide.

The on-line inventory now has 8.4 million records covering 40,000 marine species of the 200,000 described in scientific literature so far. Ron O'Dor, senior scientist for the Census of Marine Life, expects those numbers to climb. "We estimate that by the time the census is completed by 2010 we will have collected at least a million new species," he says.

While the database includes everything from microscopic plankton to large whales, 90 percent of the samples come from the first 100 meters of the ocean's depth. The rest, says David Welch, who heads a field-tracking program in North America, is largely unknown. "The average depth of the ocean is 4,000 meters, though less than one-tenth of 1 percent (of species) come from 3,000 meters or less," he says. "Most of the depth of the ocean hasn't been sampled. And, the deep ocean is actually the largest ecological zone in the world and probably has the biggest biomass as well."

Census discoveries in 2005 included a bright pink octopus in the Arctic, tiny carnivorous sponges in the Southern Ocean, and the first known hydrothermal vents south of the equator in the Atlantic.

The Census also reported 78 new species of fish and a biologically dead zone at the Epicenter of the deadly Dec. 26, 2004, Indonesian earthquake

Technology has accelerated the pace of discovery. Researchers working on the continental shelf from Washington State to Alaska have surgically implanted 2,700 fish with almond-size tags. Project leader David Welch says electronic devices on the ocean floor scan each fish as it passes by. "We can reconstruct which fish went where and therefore which fish stock — which are populations of a particular type of fish —
went in direction A, (which in) direction B, and how many fish survived to reach each of these lines."

The data reveals the movement and survival of each tagged fish as it migrates within the ecosystem — important details for fisheries management and protection of endangered species.

The current array stretches across more than 1,550 kilometers in North America and includes 135 listening stations. The team expects to have 2,000 in place by 2010. David Welch says the goal is to replicate the network across continental shelves worldwide. "We actually had expression of interest from all seven continents including Antarctica in starting to put in these systems," he says.

Satellites follow another 2,000 animals including species of shark, birds, turtles, seals and sea lions electronically tagged in 2005. And, adapted from the human genome project is a tool used to catalog new ocean species. Senior scientist O'Dor says DNA barcodes can rapidly and accurately identify species. "It doesn't give these species a name," he says, "but at least it gives an identifier that we can use for the record, and people in the future can deal with the descriptions." He says a lot of the process can be automated. "If we get a new specimen from, for example, deep sea vents that no one has ever seen before," he says, "we can take a small piece of that and get a sequence for it. That sequence can be written out on a chart, and that becomes the reference number or barcode for that specimen."

The Census already has barcodes for 800 fish species with another 1,000 to be added by mid-2006. That library could rapidly expand as single cell and microbial species, which make up 90 percent of the biomass of the ocean, are barcoded. Evidence of that bulk were the 400 new species of microscopic worms and crustaceans that live between the grains of sediment at the bottom of the sea discovered at a single site off the coast of Africa in 2005.

Ron O'Dor says expanding knowledge of the ocean frontier has been an international effort with more than 1,700 experts from 73 countries involved in the project.

Uribe vows to eliminate every coca plant to end income for rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — President Alvaro Uribe has vowed to increase efforts to destroy plants used to make cocaine, in order to choke leftist rebels' drug trafficking income.

President Uribe Wednesday said the government will not rest until "the last coca plant" is eradicated near Macarena National Park. The park is close to a region controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Uribe's comments come just one day after rebel forces killed 29 soldiers standing guard as workers destroyed coca crops used to make cocaine.

The 17,000-strong FARC, and a smaller guerrilla group known as the ELN, have been engaged in a deadly 41-year civil war to topple the government. The rebels fund operations mainly through drug trafficking.

Uribe, who is running for re-election in next May's presidential vote, has stepped up military efforts.

Two arrested for holding illegal aliens hostage to await smuggling fees
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. customs and immigration agents say two Guatemalan men face human smuggling charges after agents uncovered a so-called "drop house" where illegal immigrants were being held against their will.

Officials Thursday said 25 Central American migrants were found imprisoned in a residence in California.

The illegal immigrants, from Ecuador, Guatemala and El Salvador, told agents they had been confined to two
rooms for more than a month. They say their Guatemalan captors prevented them from leaving the house, threatened them with machetes and provided food only once each day.

As part of the probe into the smuggling operation, the 25 migrants are being interviewed by investigators. Authorities say the Guatemalan captors were to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon. Smugglers use so-called "drop houses" to hold illegal immigrants as they arrange for relatives to pay the balance of their smuggling fees.

Jo Stuart
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