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(506) 223-1327         Published Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 1             E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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A baker's dozen of Costa Rican resolutions for 2008
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers who cannot find good resolutions to improve their lives in 2008 need only look to past issues of A.M. Costa Rica.

A lot of the grief that befalls expats here is predictable and frequently the result of bad decisions and lack of information.

Consider some of these resolutions and the case studies that generated them:

1. I promise not to set myself up as a patsy and let my girlfriend kick me out of my own house.

Some expats here behave badly and put themselves in precarious legal positions. This was the topic of a number of articles in 2007 based on actual events. The news stories told of expats who were victims of the revised domestic violence law that allows a woman to evict a boyfriend even if the man owns the property. And the courts take their own sweet time in setting a hearing on the evidence.

2. I will check and make sure I know who holds powers of attorney over my corporations and, by extension, by properties in Costa Rica.

Another series of articles pointed out that some expats delay in changing the board of directors or revoking powers of attorney even when they put valuable property in the name of a corporation. Although the expat may own all the stock, courts do not call it stealing when someone with a valid power of attorney sells corporate assets. That's true even if the seller does not have an ownership interest in the assets.

3. I will legalize that gun I have stashed away for protection.

U.S. citizens generally love guns, but the Costa Rica laws do not indulge that sentiment. There are ways to have a legal gun in the home or office without extensive paperwork and theory and marksmanship tests. One article suggested holding the weapon in a Costa Rican corporation, which is legal even for pensionados and rentistas.

4. I will try to generate as little carbon as possible, or at least I will recycle.

Carbon footprint are the buzz words, and the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration promises to make the country carbon neutral within a few years, barring major volcanic eruptions. Calculating carbon emissions and the production of oxygen is a bit complex, but a 2007 article sought to explain it. And as to recycling, garbage, solid waste, is a continuing problem here, but reusing some of the material is a way to reduce the woes.

5.  I will not give crooks access to my bank account, but I will use online transfers to stay out of long bank lines.

Costa Rican banks appear to be under siege from crooks who are transferring money out of customer accounts. One expat lost $215,000. The trick is to keep account information and passwords out of the hands of crooks and to keep a continual eye on accounts to avoid drainage from inside sources. Still, online transfers allow expats to pay monthly bills in under a half hour instead of spending the day at the bank.

6. I will not become a property fraud victim.

Buying property here can be complex. For starters, a newcomer should try to get a decent appraisal on a property of interest. This is hard to do in a land where sales prices are misrepresented and frequently not available.

The first step is to find out about title and other restrictions on property before putting up any earnest money.

And, as in most areas, knowledge is power, so a property purchaser should make an effort to learn exactly how the transaction will progress and what all the words mean.

Real estate buyers also need a good checklist to stay out of trouble when buying property in Costa
 new year's resolutions

 Rica.  However, most people forget about what needs to happen afterwards.   Here is a checklist for after the closing.

7. I will make an effort to get legal with immigration, if I am not already.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is so messed up that officials had to extend residency terms by a year twice. It still is a black hole for documents. Many expats use that fact as a reason not to seek residency here.  They work illegally on tourist visas. But immigration is changing and soon will institute electronic procedures to generate identity cards much like the cédulas of Costa Rican citizens.

8. I will pay my fair share of taxes.

Tributación, the tax-collecting agency, no longer is a pushover. And they are getting better with the prospect of more online services and investigations. A lot of illegal workers here (See No. 7) do not even try to pay taxes, and many corporate books are not up to date.

Producing more revenue is a goal of the Arias administration, and tax collectors are cracking down on those who fail to follow the rules.

9. I will do my homework before relocating here.

Costa Rica is not that fairytale land many North Americans think. It is great to live here, but a little knowledge helps to avoid the daily disasters. There are a lot of sources of information, including periodic summaries from A.M. Costa Rica.

10. I will not get involved in high interest deals too good to be true.

The year 2007 saw the conviction of Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho for aggravated fraud and illegal banking. Although he may yet win an appeal on technicalities, the trial made it clear that he and his brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, operated what the judges described as a ponzi scheme. To the tune of $1 billion.

Many North Americans and expats think that there are very lucrative deals to be found here. Well, they are in line behind very savvy Costa Ricans, and in most cases the currency is hard work.

Still there are continual rebirths of various fast-buck schemes that seek to trim the gullible. We have yet to see one that lives up to its promises.

11.  I will pay attention to personal security.

Home invasions, car hijackings and kidnappings are on the rise. Even the politicians and the movers and shakers have been victims in 2007. There are a number of steps expats can take to avoid such crimes, but the basic rule is to stay out of harm's way with planning and avoidance.

12. I won't leave a big mess when I die.

Expats here have to face the inevitable and plan for their own demise. In 2007 a man died and his sister had to drop everything — all her responsibilities in the States — and hop a plane to Costa Rica.  His affairs were a mess, and weeks were needed to sort them out. Basic planning can avoid most of the legal headaches.

13. I will read A.M. Costa Rica every weekday.

Editors frequently are asked questions that have been answered repeatedly in various news stories. It is said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. But vigilance also is the price of living successfully in a foreign country. No other English-language news source keeps readers so connected to Costa Rica.

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New Year's shootings claim
four lives in country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunshots accompanied the fireworks to welcome the new year Tuesday.

One man died and seven persons suffered bullet wounds about 5 a.m. Tuesday at the Septimo Cielo nightclub on Avenida 7 between calles 4 and 6. Officers characterized the shootout as a confrontation between Dominicans and Colombians. The neighborhood is where many Dominicans live and work.

In Pavas about 4 a.m. a man died when assailants shot him in the head.

In Hatillo in south San José three men in a car gunned down a pedestrian, who died from a bullet to the head, said police. The shooting happened about 7 a.m. in daylight on a main street.

In Limón a man died when he was shot as he left a New Year's party about an hour before midnight Monday.

U.N. Children's Fund exec
cites many 2008 challenges

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Reducing infant mortality and chronic malnutrition, mitigating the impact of natural disasters, and slashing the toll of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and abuse are among the immediate challenges facing the United Nations Children’s Fund in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2008.

“On child survival, we must continue to focus on the critical period after a mother gives birth and an infant’s good start in life,” said the organizations regional director, Nils Kastberg. He was underlining the need for more public investment.

He called for greater support to increase breastfeeding and better prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, while also providing HIV-positive mothers with treatment that would allow them to live to see their children grow up.

Preparedness before natural disasters must be improved to cut down on the catastrophic impact they have on families and towns and emergency responses must be accelerated to avoid loss of lives and livelihoods, which tend to affect women and children first, he added.

In a region where 80,000 young people die every year as a result of violence in the home, 2 million suffer commercial sexual exploitation and 6 million suffer severe abuse each year, remedial measures are crucial and urgent, Kastberg said.

He also called for more funds dedicated to programs to create opportunities for adolescent development. “Specifically, we need to ensure that the 25 per cent to 30 per cent of adolescents and young people between 15 and 24 years of age, who are out of school or out of work, be better prepared to formally enter the working world,” he said.

An important element to achieving this would be to expand basic education beyond primary school to include education from pre-primary to secondary, and to make it intercultural, of good quality and open to the different languages in the national cultural context, he said.

“With 2008 being the international year of languages, it is timely to focus on that element of education,” Kastberg said. “By providing a full and proper education, we can build a full and proper work force of young people.”

Volcano in Chile blows top

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Llaima volcano in southern Chile erupted Tuesday and sent a huge plume of smoke and ash into the air. Some 150 persons in its vicinity had to be evacuated. Authorities also said nearby areas were put on alert for possible evacuations and that experts are flying over the volcano to monitor the situation. The volcano is located inside the Parque Nacional Conguillio and is among the country's most active. 

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Cruz Roja says that 2007 was record year for violent deaths
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The year 2007 saw a record in violent deaths. The bulk were from traffic accidents or crimes.

The Cruz Roja released a summary Monday that contained statistics taken from the cases to which the rescue agency responded. The report said that 966 persons perished violently in 2007. That is 54 deaths higher than 2006.

The Cruz Roja stopped counting for this report about 1 p.m. Monday. There may have been additional violent deaths later that day not included and there may have been deaths to which the agency did not respond during the year. This would include cases where a victim is obviously dead and the body is taken directly to the medical examiner.
The statistics do include the 15 persons who died violently on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Some 11 were victims of motor vehicle accidents.

In all, 32 persons died violently from Dec. 24 through New Year's Eve, the Cruz Roja said. By comparison there were 763 violent deaths in 2000, according to the summary.

The biggest disaster took place early Oct. 11 in Atenas when 14 persons died as a soggy hillside collapsed on where they were sleeping.

Some 21 percent or 203 persons died from what the Cruz Roja said was aggression, either with a gun, a knife or some other means. 108 of those deaths were in the Provincia de San José. Some 41 were in the Provincia de Limón.

Winds from the north bring clear skies and chilly conditions to Central Valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Strong winds from the northeast swept the Central Valley Tuesday. The winds also were strong in parts of the northern Pacific and the northern zone, according to
Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The winds brought mostly clear weather but with the additional chill factor, particularly for poorly constructed dwellings. There were no reports of significant damage.

The top wind speed for the day in San José was 47.3 kph or 29.3 mph, said the weather institute.
Liberia in Guanacaste was being hit with top winds of 58.7 kph or 36.5 mph late Tuesday, according to the weather institute's remote station there.

The Caribbean coast was much less windy, as was Cartago where the top winds for the day were just 14.3 kph or 8.9 mph.

The forecast for today predicted an increase in winds in the Central Valley, the northern Pacific and in the northern zone. More clouds were expected in the northern zone and on the Caribbean coast with possible morning showers, said the institute.

Cornell Wind Ensemble plans benefit concert for Canadian Club here Jan. 15
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A wind ensemble from Cornell University will present a concert Jan. 15 to benefit the Canadian Club’s outreach program.

The concert at 7:30 p.m. at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano will be part of a 10-day visit by the 49-member musical group.

The university musicians plan to visit Matapalo and to deliver 70 refurbished instruments to two other schools,

The schools receiving instruments are a music conservatory in San Isidro, the Universidad Nacional Sede Region Brunca, and a high school, Liceo de Poas in Poasito, that has an excellent music program but instruments in serious disrepair, said Cynthia Johnston Turner, conductor.

“At Universidad Nacional Sede Region Brunca some of the instruments were donated to the school 50 years ago, and they are still using them," she said.

The tour will take the group cross-country by bus to Santa Cruz and Matapalo after performances in and around San José and homestays with host families.

The ensemble also will perform at the annual Santa Cruz cultural festival, as it did in 2006, and will be featured in a parade with the Matapalo band.

The group of Cornell student musicians also will have opportunities to enjoy a rainforest hike, bird watching and a midnight visit to a sea turtle nesting site at Playa Grande
cornell wind ensemble
Robert Barker/University Photography
The Cornell University Wind Ensemble rehearses in January 2006 with a young student at a music school in Matapalo.

on the Pacific coast, said the university.

The itinerary also includes a Cornell alumni reception and a visit to a coffee farm operated by Rosamond Grew, a member of a family that has strong links to the Ithaca, New York, university. Her husband, Nathaniel Grew, completed his undergraduate and veterinarian education there. The family has five children who are Cornell students or recent alumni, said the university. Mrs. Grew is a founder of the San Isidro school.
Costa Rica composer Eddie Mora wrote a piece for electric violin and winds and one of his violin students, Erasmo Solerti, went to Cornell for the world premiere in December. Solerti will perform at the benefit concert in San Pedro.

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Rebels in Colombia fail to hand over hostages as promised
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's President Álvaro Uribe criticized leftist rebels for delaying the planned handover of three hostages held for more than five years.

International observers, who were in Colombia to oversee the release, left late Monday, as rebel leaders said they could not complete the handover for now.

Uribe traveled to the central city of Villavicencio to meet with international delegates awaiting instructions from rebel leaders about the planned handover. Venezuelan officials in charge of the operation say they have yet to receive word from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia about a location to find the three hostages.

Uribe said the leftist rebels have a history of breaking promises they have made during the decades-long conflict in Colombia.

Uribe said Colombia's government has many reasons to distrust the rebels, and he wanted to express those concerns to international observers of the release. He also said he assured the recovery team that Colombia's government has fulfilled all the necessary guarantees to ensure the mission's success.
He said Venezuelan officials received a message from rebel leaders, claiming that bad weather and Colombian military teams in the area were interfering with plans for the hostage handover.

Uribe said Fuerzas Armadas leaders are lying because weather has been very clear in rebel-held areas, and there have been no military operations over the past two weeks.

Earlier, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's foreign minister, traveled to Colombia where he asked observers from eight countries to have patience with the operation. He said it could be a few more days before rebels can relay the coordinates for Venezuelan helicopters.

The three hostages are former Colombian congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara Rojas — an aide to former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt — and Rojas's son, who was born in captivity. Rebels are holding more than 40 high-profile hostages, including Betancourt and three American defense contractors.

Rebels agreed to hand over the three hostages to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez or his representatives, earlier this month. The last time any high-profile hostages were released was before 2002, when Uribe took office vowing to crack down on  rebels.

Venezuela revalues its currency into a 'strong bolivar'
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela has begun using a new currency system in an effort to slow the country's rate of inflation. The "strong bolivar" began circulating Monday. The money was created by taking three trailing zeroes off the value of the former currency, the bolivar.

Officials say the new currency will simplify transactions and lower inflation. Venezuela's inflation rate in 2007 was more than 20 percent, the highest in the region.
Critics say they doubt the new currency will stabilize rising prices.

The official exchange rate is 2.15 new bolivars to the dollar. But the black market exchange rate is more than five new bolivars to the dollar.

The Venezuelan government is also re-introducing the locha, a coin worth one eighth of a strong bolivar.

The locha has not been in circulation since the 1970's.

Fidel Castro quoted in New Year's message praising Cubans for resistance
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has sent a New Year's message urging Cubans to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution that brought him to power nearly 50 years ago.

In the statement read on state television Monday, Castro praised Cubans for what he called their record of resistance to the United States.

The ailing Cuban leader came to power after dictator Fulgencio Batista was toppled Jan. 1, 1959.
The 81-year-old Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and transferring power to his younger brother, Raúl, in July 2006. Fidel Castro has appeared only in photographs and videos since then.

In December, state television read a letter from Castro in which he said he would not obstruct the rise of a new generation of leaders.

It was the first suggestion from Castro that he might permanently step down from the presidency.

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