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(506) 223-1327               Published Friday, Nov. 16, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 228                  E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Ready for holidays

What looks like a bug Christmas tree is a small plant overrun with blue beetles.

There are hundreds of thousands of types of beetles, and these probably also are carnivores that have been sidetracked by the rainy weather and forced to eat salad and not steak.

The color has to do with the chemical composition of their shells and the way they reflect light.

bugs on a plant
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Key piece of trade treaty legislation gets a boost
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telecommunications bill, the keystone of the free trade agenda, got a boost Thursday when lawmakers decided to put it on a so-called fast track. But all is not well with the plan to implement the trade treaty with the United States.

Union employees at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad are planning a strike starting Nov. 29.

The duration has not been set. These are the workers who want the government monopoly to remain the way it is, despite the country's promises in the free trade negotiations.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana, the strongest voice in the legislature against the treaty agenda, came out with a some 22 separate changes party lawmakers would like to see made in the telecommunications bill.

Some are technical, but others are significant, such as setting the opening of telecommunication to private competition gradually over four years.

The free trade treaty does not address land line telephone service. However, it does require Costa Rica to accept private vendors for wireless service.

The telecommunications bill is supposed to strengthen and modernize the existing government monopolies so that they can compete against private business.

Under terms of the expedited process approved Thursday, lawmakers are limited in the number of amendments they can propose. A legislative stalling tactic is to advance hundreds of motions because each has to be discussed and voted on.
The expedited process stipulates that the measure must be voted on after 20 sessions of debate. Lawmakers are limited in the time they can speak and may propose just one amendment for each section of the bill.

Partido Acción Ciudadana lawmakers do not like the expedited proposal and have said the concept weakens democracy.  However, they are outnumbered in the 57-member legislature by a two-thirds coalition put together by the executive branch. It was the coalition of the Partido Liberación Nacional, Movimiento Libertario, Unidad Social Cristiana and two lawmakers from small parties that approved the expedited process.

As the call for a strike shows, the debate over the
free trade treaty will not be confined to the legislative chambers. Union employees for the Institute Costarricense de Electricidad have marched repeatedly against the trade treaty. However, the Costa Rican people ratified the document in an Oct. 7 national referendum.

This time the marchers say essential services will continue despite the strike.

Less cooperative is a group that identified itself as Grupo Costa Rica En Acción, which sent a shrilled e-mail to media outlets calling the referendum a fraud. International observers and local newspeople agree that the voting was handled democratically, but Costa Rica En Acción claimed that many names of those opposed to the trade treaty were taken off the voting books and that other fraudulent actions permeated the referendum.

Similarly minded Costa Ricans have been protesting at the Asamblea Legislativa and also held a march last week.

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Estado de la Nación compares
Tamarindo and La Fortuna

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tamarindo just cannot get out of the spotlight. The Pacific coast community has been in the news because high levels of pollution have been found in its sea water.

Now the community is taking a beating as the bad example in a study of tourism released Thursday in the annual Estado de la Nación report.  Authors of the report compared Tamarindo with la Fortuna, the nearest major town to Arenal volcano.

The report saw Tamarindo as a place for drugs, crime, prostitution, the sale and concentration of lands and serious problems of regional organization. La Fortuna, on the other hand, was held out as populated by tourism agencies interested in marketing an ecological product. The report said that the latter tradition was more in keeping with the international image that Costa Rica has. The report appears to overstate the differences between the two communities because La Fortuna has had problems, too.

The purpose of the report, the 13th such annual review, is to look back over the previous year and come to some economic conclusions. In general 2006 got good reviews.

Casa Presidencial was quick to praise the report even before it was formally presented Thursday night. Although the report points out some economic gulfs between sectors of the community, Casa Presidencial said that the report showed that 2006 was the best year for the country in the last decade.

The economy grew at an 8.2 percent rate, the best since 1998, and some 53,000 new jobs were generated, according to the Casa Presidencial interpretation. In addition, the inflation rate of 9.4 percent was the lowest in the last 13 years, and the tax collection increased 13.3 percent, said Casa Presidencial.

Two cases with 12-year-olds
result in prison sentences

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Trial courts convicted two men Thursday of allegations that they had sex with 12-year-olds. In one case, the allegation was rape. In the second case, the allegation was that the accused paid 1,000 colons, less than $2, for a romantic encounter in a car.

As an added complexity in the second case, two police officers were jailed to face investigation that they lied in court and accepted money to change their stories.

The rape involved a young woman living on the street, according to information provided by the Poder Judicial.
She was threatened with a knife after being awakened while sleeping in a San José park, according to testimony. One of the two men involved was the accused, identified by the last names of Rodríguez Sánchez. The allegation was rape and robbery because the two men stole tennis shoes and a plate of food, said the Poder Judicial.

The trial court also heard testimony that Rodríguez was one of five men who routinely robbed pedestrians on the city streets by threatening them with a knife. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The man who was found by two policemen with a 12-year-old in his car was identified by the last name of Fonseca, said the Poder Judicial. That was in Alajuela. He received six years and now will face an additional allegation of paying a bribe to two policemen.

The events that resulted in the trial took place in 2005. The two policemen, identified by the last names of Benavides and Jiménez, filed a report at the time that said they found Fonseca naked in a vehicle with the 12-year-old. At trial they said they made a mistake and that the man was fully clothed, said the Poder Judicial.

The Fuerza Pública officers said that the variation between what they reported at the time and what they said in their testimony was the result of human error and that the police report was written by a lawyer and not by them.

The prosecutor contested their later testimony and alleged that they accepted a 200,000 colons ($384) bribe to change their story. They were each jailed for six months investigation, said the Poder Judicial.
In another verdict Thursday the Tribunal de Juicio de Limón sentenced a man identified by the last names of Mercado Herrera to 16 years and 60 days in prison for killing the father of a former companion.

Dec. 20, 2006, Mercado tried to force his former companion, identified by the last names of Stamp Mongia to return to live with him. Her father, identified by the last name of Stamp, intervened, and Mercado shot him fatally, the court determined. This happened in Barrio los Cocos, Limón.

Local protesters visiting
Georgia training facility

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rita Calvert, a representative from El Centro de Amigos Cuáqueros para la Paz in San José, is flying from Costa Rica to join in an annual protest at Fort Benning, Georgia. She is one of three persons from here who will protest.

The annual protest is a continuation against what was known as the School of Americas. The school was criticized harshly for educating many Latin American military officers who later committed human rights abuses in their own countries.
The protest will be today and Saturday in Columbus, Georgia.

Coincidentally, this comes shortly after the Costa Rican security ministry announced that 150 officers from the Fuerza Pública will be sent to the United States to attend training facilities, including those in Georgia.

The school now is called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. A spokesman there said the facility is a successor institution and not the same one renamed. One of the faculty members is Walter Navarro, the former director general of the Fuerza Pública here.

The institute continues to specialize in the training of Latin American police officers and military forces. Officials from the U.S. Department of Defense say that the actions of the institute are now transparent. The school emphasizes the importance of democracy and ethics on its Web page, stating that students receive at least eight hours of instruction on human rights as part of basic training.

Protest groups say the military school continues to practice violent techniques and does not promote true democracy. These groups will hold non-violent training classes, host concerts and speakers including former torture victims, and lead a nonviolent march in support of closing down the training institute.

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Lawmakers consider increasing fines for bogus 911 calls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are considering legal changes that would beef up the fines for misuse of the 911 emergency telephone system.

Rodolfo Jugo Romero, director of the emergency system, told a legislative commission that about 85 percent of the calls that the service receives are not real emergencies. Persons call to find out the time, the results of the lottery or a joke, he told the Comisión Permanente Asuntos Sociales.

Under current law, penalties for misuse kick in after 10  such calls. The proposed change would institute fines for five unnecessary or prank calls and increase the fine for 10 or more such calls.

Lawmakers also want to expand the definition of
 unnecessary calls. As with most fines in Costa Rica, the amount is established as a percentage of the base salary for an office worker. This allows the fines to keep track with inflation because salaries are increased every six months. The base now is about 200,000 colons or some $384. After five unnecessary calls, the telephone user would face a fine of about 25 percent of this amount.

Between five and 10 unnecessary or prank calls, the fine would be 50 percent of the amount. After 10 calls, the fine would be the full base salary.

Now lawmakers are wrestling with the problem of finding a legitimate way to notify telephone users that an administrative process has been opened against them. The notice is supposed to be provided with the telephone bill.
Many Costa Ricans never get telephone bills because of problems with the mails and addresses.

Regional conference here considering the problem of violence by juveniles
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 160 representatives from the governments of Central America, México and Dominican Republic are meeting today to discuss violence and child abuse. The conference hosted by the Costa Rican government, the U. N. Children's Fund and the U. N. Human Rights Office, among others, began Thursday in Hotel San José Palacio in San José.
More than 6 million children are victims of severe abuse and more than 80,000 die due to domestic violence,  according to organizers of the conference on the culture of
peace and the prevention of juvenile violence. A study, sponsored by the secretary general of the United Nations published last year, found that the majority of violence towards children remains hidden and thus slightly tolerated by society. This includes physical punishment, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, said organizers.

“60 percent of our population is under the age of 30,” said Mayela Coto, vice minister of Justicia y Gracia. “30 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 don't work or study.”  She said politics which encourage real access to opportunities and integral development are the beginning of violence prevention.

From garlic oil to sole in rare sauce with a literary touch
The junta, in its wisdom, did not grant me my wish for a skylight.

Thanks to letters from readers, my desire had already waned considerably. Doug assured me that it would leak (and I could see myself with my feet in four inches of water).  Both Bruce and George made suggestions for alternatives to skylights.

Meanwhile, I, not so wisely, decided on Saturday to add garlic to my noonday meal here.  I had pressed about five cloves into a small jar of olive oil, which I keep in the fridge.  I spread it rather inappropriately, but lavishly, on the smoked pork chop and green salad.  (For the first time we actually had a salad that was primarily good, green lettuce.)  All of this was just before I set off with Luz, our secretary, and her family to the Women’s Club Fair.  This is an annual event in November and might be called the most elegant flea market in the country. 

There were five of us in a closed car — it is cold outside! — And I am sure that every time I opened my mouth to speak, out came the fragrance of what is for good reason called “the stinking rose.”

Then, of course, I ran into quite a number of friends I haven’t seen in a while, and my air kisses continued to spread the word that I love garlic.

However, there were many wonderful wares for sale at the fair.  I was particularly struck by the artwork of Luz’s two talented sisters.  Marta makes mosaics — charming ones that are also useful for things such as footpath stones and cheese platters.  Lilian, or Sallo, does wondrous paintings that are both powerful and full of emotion.  She rightly calls her work, “The World by Sallo.” 

I also was enchanted by the scarves by Delores Bowman and the stunning earrings at the table of Carolina Monge.  And, of course, there were all sorts of goodies to eat, none better than the desserts by Robin.  To my mind she makes the best cakes in Costa Rica, and will soon be opening her own store in Escazú.

Then, of course, there are the read-before books.  The pickings were slim by the time we got there, but I brought back three that I hope will prove to be gems.  Two are collections of short stories.  One, “Think of England,” by Frederic Raphael, I chose because it has some stories about expats living in Spain in the 50s, and I am working on a novel about Majorca during the same time.                      
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. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The other is by John Wyndham about whom I know nothing, except that he was very successful as a writer of "modified" science fiction and that the book was published by Penguin and to my mind, anything accepted by Penguin, I am going to like.  My dream used to be to have them publish something of mine, but they have since dispersed or at least, are not really Penguin anymore. 

The third is a fat book by James R. Mellow.  “Charmed Circle” is about the life of Gertrude Stein, her life-long friend, Alice B. Toklas, and all of the icons of art and literature who gathered at their home in Paris. 

At the beginning is a quote from D. H. Kahnweiler:  “You must understand that we lived in an atmosphere of euphoria, youth and enthusiasm that can hardly be imagined today.”  I nearly wept reading that.

I haven’t begun reading the book, but in the notes I found a recipe for filet of sole “with a rare sauce,” by Alice B. Toklas.  Since you can use trout and all of the ingredients are available in Costa Rica and it sounds very interesting I am sharing it.

Wash 2 lbs. of fish and soak in water for one hour.  Then fry 2½ cups onions chopped & sprinkled with cinnamon in 2½ TB butter. When lightly browned, place the fish on the onions, sprinkle with 1 tsp. turmeric,  salt, pepper, 1 cup light cream, 2½ TB butter. 

Shake the skillet until the fish is almost done (That’s what it says.) Mix ½ pint yogurt, 1 cup finely chopped almonds, 1 pint heavy cream and pour over fish.  Cook over lowest heat for ½ hour.  If dried up, add more heavy cream.  (Don’t let it dry up.)  I think this sauce would be more suited to chicken or veal, myself.
It is obvious from her pictures that Gertrude ate everything that Alice placed in front of her.  But you will also notice that this recipe has not one clove of garlic.  So at least Ms. Stein could enjoy it without blowing her friends away.

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Chile's President Bachelet tours region hit by earthquake
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has toured northern towns hit by a major earthquake that killed two people, injured more than 100 and left thousands without homes.

Major aftershocks hit the region again Thursday, as President Bachelet sought to reassure distraught citizens in the port city of Tocopilla on the Pacific Coast. She promised the government will provide financial aid.

Tocopilla and the nearby mining town of Maria Elena were hardest hit in Wednesday's 7.7 magnitude earthquake. Several thousand homes were damaged or destroyed, leaving 15,000 displaced people.
Water, power and telephone lines to the area remain cut and cellphone service is reported to be overloaded.

Today's aftershocks included one of 6.8 magnitude and another of 6.2. The damage from those has not been assessed yet.

The government is erecting temporary hospital and emergency shelters, and rescue teams are delivering water, food and medicine to the victims. Government spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said that the two towns will be declared disaster areas to expedite aid delivery.

The quake was felt as far away as the Chilean capital, Santiago, and neighboring Peru and Bolivia.

Some see constriction of democracy as the Internet matures
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The dangers and opportunities of the Web dominated discussions on the final day of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at which many of the nearly 1,400 participants, ranging from sceptics to supporters, provided a glimpse of what might lie in the future.
The British writer Andrew Keen warned “the future is not good.” Despite much talk about the profound democratic transformations wrought by the Internet, he said there were also “unintended consequences” and the technologies of what is often described as “Web 2.0” — the second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — would bring less, not more, democracy.
User-generated sites like Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube were the future of the media, Keen said. But the explosion of user-generated content was not benefiting the talented. Profit was not going to the creators of content, but to a tiny corporate minority.

The Internet was also trivializing politics by helping to create a “cacophony of opinions, where one cannot sort out the truth.” The remedy was to teach young people not technology but media literacy and a healthy scepticism.

Robert Pepper of Cisco Systems pointed out the continuing trend to lower cost. For instance, local and regional Internet exchange points allowed traffic to be routed within a region, lowering global Internet costs.

Information technologies could also be used to address issues of energy and the environment, Pepper said. Technologies could not only improve the supply of energy where it was not easily available, but at the same time help to address climate change.
Vinton Cerf, sometimes described as one of the “fathers of the Internet,” said there was increasing understanding of the need for Web responsibility.

“Global Internet law” would have to be developed at some point, Cerf said. “We will have to arrive at global agreements about what people can and cannot do,” as well as ways to enforce laws globally when people did infringe the law.

“This will be very complicated, something like the Law of the Sea, but perhaps we will need such a matrix to sort things out.”

Fatimata Seye Sylla, a leader of Senegal's civil society, said that for Africa access remained paramount, but “you cannot govern something that almost does not exist.” Africa was still at the bottom of the list in terms of infrastructure, capacity and content. Work was going across the continent to build capacity and create local content, she said. There was a need to develop public-private partnerships and a regional regulatory and policy framework conducive to investment in information technology.

“But until projects are fully implemented by Africans, there will be no sense of ownership,” she said, calling for more involvement by civil society and for stronger political commitment by national leaders.

A total of 1,376 people from 109 countries attended the four-day Forum.

Eighty-four events held in parallel with the main sessions included 19 events on the issue of security, 11 on openness and freedom of expression, 12 on development and capacity-building, 10 on critical Internet resources, nine on access and six on diversity.  The Forum's third meeting will take place in New Delhi in December 2008.

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La Ruta leader Federico Ramírez
 Tico Ramírez has the La Ruta lead

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican Federico Ramírez finished first Thursday in the second stage of the La Ruta de los Conquistadores coast-to-coast bike race.

Ramírez led the estimated 450 bikers remaining from El Rodeo near Ciudad Colón to Terramall in San Diego de Tres Rios. His time was 3 hours and 50 minutes flat for the route that was only about 50 percent paved.

Bikers are leaving at 6:45 a.m. today for Turrialba where they will confront the highest point as they cross the skirt of the 3,000-meter Irazú volcano.

Saturday, the fourth and last day, the racers will finish at Playa Bonita in Limón.

The only major incident Thursday was an accident involving race founder Román Urbina, who usually leads the pack with his motorbike. He ran off the road and may have suffered a broken knee, race organizers reported.

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