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"Doing Latin America, Mostly by Luck"

Episode 17- January 2010

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Living on the Rim, What's in a Word, The C.R. Constitution, Breaking News

Playa Heradura

Playa Herradura Near Jacó (or is it Matapalo Beach?) – So Many Beaches, So Little Time!

Living on the Rim

California and its San Andreas Fault have nothing on Costa Rica. Here in the rich coast, we have the dubious honor of being as geologically unstable as the best of them. 

The isthmus that makes up Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama is a mountain chain that rests on the Pacific Rim and was originally formed by the eruption of numerous volcanoes. Many of the mountains run out laterally from the North/South spine to the seas, both Atlantic and Pacific, providing a panorama of lush green terminating in jungle and edged by glistening beaches of black, brown and white sands. 

The Central Valley of Costa Rica, where about 60% of Costa Ricans live, is a plain that that was formed before Our Hero arrived here, i.e., some 300,000 years ago. In the center of this valley are San José and Alejuela, the two most populous cities in the country. The flat valley was formed by a “pyroclastic flow”, a mixture of lava, rocks, mud and ash flowing down from the volcanoes.  

There are literally hundreds of earthquakes every year here, some noticeable to the layman, some not, from over 100 volcanoes (see seismic map below for 2009 - each black dot represents a recorded earthquake between 1984 and 1991). Every one of those dots shown on the map registered on the University of Costa rica’s seismograph. If you draw a straight line on this map from Cinchona in the central highlands to Golfito in the southwest, the point at which the line comes closest to the coast is not far Quepos/Manuel Antonio where GG lives.

Recorded Earthquakes in Costa Rica 1984-1991

The three most volatile and active volcanoes in the country are located within a short driving distance from San José: Volcan Poas, Volcan Turrialba and Volcan Irazǔ. All three of these beauties have been active recently. Poas had a significant eruption and earthquake in January of this year and resulted in 36 deaths mostly from the resultant flows and landslides. Turrialba just had a moderate size eruption within the last few days and is being watched carefully. The press is still writing about the ¡Erupcion!

GG was only about a month in Quepos, just prior to the Poas terremoto, when he was awakened one midnight by the bed shaking and the built-in closet in the bedroom creaking as it twisted in its wall mounts. I think it lasted only 10-15 seconds but may have been less –  so who has the presence of mind during  something like this to actually time the damn thing? Having lived in the northeast U.S. most of my life, this was a new experience; I was no longer a seismic virgin; I became a veteran like the Californians.

A certain professor Gans from the University of California some time ago made a presentation to the Geological Society of America and talked about the early eruptions in Costa Rica that formed the central valley where San Jose is located:

"The Costa Ricans were not around for the last big one," said Gans. "But it's inevitable (that there will be) another pyroclastic flow like the last big one in Costa Rica, (and it) will make the Mount St. Helens eruption look like nothing. We don't know if we will get a similar warning for a very large eruption like the ones that have occurred prehistorically in the Central Valley of Costa Rica," said Gans.

Living on the rim and on the edge, amigos, and loving it.

What’s-in-a-Word Department

Manzana de Agua
Manzana de Agua

If you recall, in the last issue I described a few of the incredible and somewhat peculiar fruits of Costa Rica. In the heat of the discourse, I drew a blank on what the Spanish name for “water apple” is. The Spanish name for apple is “manzana” and for water, of course, it’s agua. A Tico friend pointed out that the name for water apple is “manzana de agua”. 

There goes GG’s mind again – trying to make the obvious complicated.

Spanglish is not universally a non-Spanish speaker’s idiom. As I struggle with the vagaries of learning, absorbing and retaining a new language at my age, I am perversely encouraged by people on the other side of the idiomatic wall. This is because, sometimes, they have as much trouble converting their mother tongue into English as I have transforming my English thoughts into Spanish. A koool example follows. 

As a result of collaborating with the local Chamber of Commerce (Cámara Comercio, Industria y Turismo de Aguirre) on a business workshop a few months back I was put on their mailing list for notices. I received the following email recently; a police notice that warns of some counterfeiters operating in the area. The first section is the original Spanish followed by the English translation (not sure whether the translation was done by the police department or the Cámara). 



Estimados compañeros favor tomar nota de la siguiente información: 

En nuestra oficina se tramita información policial relacionada con la participación de un vehículo tipo automóvil marca Mercedes Benz, estilo 300D, color azul oscuro, año 1982, vidrios polarizados, cuatro puertas y con placas particulares 100640, de acuerdo a la información en dicho vehículo viajan tres sujetos (masculinos), entre estos un extranjero (posible estaunidense); los mismos portan al parecer dólares de los Estados Unidos, falsos, de acuerdo a investigaciones previas los sujetos han intentado cambiar dicha divisa en distintos comercios de Guápiles, sin embargo al momento se desconoce la cantidad de posibles afectados reales. Por disposición operativa, se dispuso intentar localizar el vehículo y realizar su detención para identificación de personas y localización de moneda falsa. 

Se recomienda tomar las medidas de información necesarias para intentar poner en conocimiento de los comerciantes de la zona, de la información supra citada. 

Tel: 2777-1511 / 2777-0511.  

Sin otro particular se suscribe atentamente; 

Jorge Campos VillegasAnalista Criminal




Dear colleagues. Please note the following information:

In our office we are handling police intelligence relating to a vehicle - a Mercedes Benz car, style 300D, dark blue, 1982, tinted windows, four doors and a number plate 100640, according to information, the vehicle is traveling with three subjects (male), between them a foreigner (possibly americans) apparently carrying false U.S. dollars, according to previous research subjects have tried to change the currency in different places in Guápiles, however at the moment we do not know the actual number of places possibly affected. For operational readiness, be prepared to try to locate the vehicle and so we may perform the arrest for these identified people and determine the location of counterfeit currency.

It is necessary to share this information to try inform businesses in the area of the information cited above. Phone 27771511 or  27770511.  


Jorge Campos Villegas

Criminal Analyst


And gracias to you too amigo, for making me feel more comfortable with my Spanglish and good luck on the hunt for the counterfeiters.

Costa Rican Constitution

Recently, on a whim, and stimulated by a vigorous discussion on the boob tube between U.S. Constitution “scholars” concerning said venerable tome, GG decided to scan the Costa Rican constitution and make a quick comparison to the U.S. document. What follows is a brief synopsis designed to be informative, not political:


US Constitution

The U.S. Constitution is approximately 8,000 words or about 2½ Golden Gringo Chronicles. The Costa Rican Constitution, in English, is approximately 16,400 words. If the typical translation process holds true in this case, the same document in Spanish would be about 10% fewer words (and 50 to 100% more syllables, yuk, yuk) than it is in English (the CR Consitution would therefore be about 18,000 words in English.

The count for the Costa Rican constitution does not include all the amendments of which there seen to be many and for which it seems to be difficult to find a list.

Since there is only one “state”, the amendment process is essentially a federal legislative assembly process that enacts an amendment by passage of a public law requiring two-thirds majority. Ratification is inherent in the passage of the law.


Some of the intriguing differences in the Costa Rican Constitution, adopted in 1949 and its U.S. brother, established in 1787, are:

Title I – The Republic, Article 12: “The Army as a permanent institution is abolished. There shall be the necessary police forces for surveillance and the preservation of the public order.”  Does this mean we can have a temporary Army? Sign me up. There are many levels of Police in Costa Rica.

Title VI - Religion, Article 75: “The Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion is the religion of the State, which contributes to its maintenance, without preventing the free exercise in the Republic of other forms of worship that are not opposed to universal morality or good customs.” My experience so far is that there is a great tolerance here for other religions. Quepos alone has several fundamentalist churches that seem to be prospering, including a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There also is a codicil (Article 131) that states an assembly member must be a layman or laywoman, so a cleric has to resign his ministry before running for office and cannot hold both a position in the Church and the Government at the same time.

Title VII – Education and Culture, Article 76: “Spanish is the official language of the nation.”  While business signs are often in English to cater to tourists and gringos, “official” signs and documents are in Spanish only. Applying for a residency permit requires having most documents translated into Spanish.

Title IX – The Legislative Branch, Article 107: “Representatives shall hold office for four years and may not be reelected to a succeeding term.”  

Title X – The Executive Branch, Article 132: “The following may not be elected President or Vice President: 1) The President who has served as such during any period, or a Vice President or whoever has replaced him, serving during most of the constitutional term.” 

Dude, term limits for both the President and the assembly. A former office holder can, however, run again after waiting out one term.

Title X - Article 135: “There shall be two Vice Presidents of the Republic, who shall replace the President during his permanent absence, in the order of their nomination. During his temporary absence, the President may call upon either Vice President to replace him.”

Laura Chinchilla
Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s next likely President

One current VP (Laura Chinchilla) recently resigned to devote full time to her presidential campaign and is reputed to be well ahead in the polls. She is the hand picked successor chosen by the current president and the current party in power. Costa Rica’s next president is likely to be a woman.

Dude, I'd vote for her just because she's better looking than the other candidates; hell she's better looking than any predidential candidate I've ever seen!

Let's do lunch mi amor.

Title XIII – Public Finances, Article 176: “The ordinary budget of the Republic encompasses all probable revenues and all authorized expenditures of the public administration during the fiscal year. In no case may the amount of budgetary expenditures  exceed that of probable revenues.” It sure reads like a balanced budget codicil but it doesn’t mean those clever little politicians can’t find the money outside the budget. The current public debt to GDP ratio is reported for Costa Rica (probably IMF, Chinese and other borrowings) to be about 40% versus about 80% for the U.S.; the latter (U.S.) is forecast to rise to +100% in the next few years.

For anyone who would like to make their own comparison, here are a couple of good links:

U.S. Constitution: http://www.usconstitution.net/

Costa Rica Constitution:  http://www.costaricalaw.com/legalnet/constitutional_law/constitenglish.html


Breaking News


Drink 'em if you got 'em (From an article in the A.M. Costa Rica Newsletter)

The new election code passed late last year does away with prohibitions on alcohol around election day. The old law used to be a drag for tourism operators who used creative methods to circumvent it.

Election day in Costa Rica also coincides with Superbowl Sunday, the professional football championship in the United States. Some say football and baseball were invented to encourage beer consumptions. It is true that bar operators had to be creative in Costa Rica to wet their customers whistles. In some cases they set up private parties.

All that is history now, and bars and restaurants will be operating normally Feb. 7.

Good Friday continues to be a dry day here. (At least J.C. gets some respect - gg)


Roberto de Quepos,
El Gringo Dorado
Pura Vida!

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