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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 3
Jo Stuart
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Paragon lawyer says stories were malicious
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lawyer for a firm aggressively marketing lots near the Pacific coast community of Parrita said Tuesday that news stories in A.M. Costa Rica about the project were false and malicious and denied that a one-page sales contract for North Americans was skimpy.

The lawyer is Michael J. Fingar of Hallandale Beach, Florida. In an e-mail to the newspaper, the lawyer, a real estate specialist, said he was speaking for the company, Paragon Properties of Costa Rica S.A.

The lawyer also said that "any unhappiness on the part of local real estate professionals is easily understood in terms of their own

"The local market is commonly burdened by overcharging by real estate people," said Fingar, "and they wish to keep unbrokered property to an absolute minimum."

Instead of using traditional real estate firms in Costa Rica, the company and associated marketing firms have embarked on a telephone and Internet campaign to bring U.S. citizens here to purchase the property.

The company markets one-acre vacant lots near Parrita for $19,900. However, in an unusual twist, instead of providing a deed to the property, the company actually sells a Costa Rican corporation that owns rights to a one-acre parcel.

Fingar directed reporters to a new Web site, hosted by the character of Tommy Toucan. The Web site extols life in Costa Rica and calls the Paragon effort "the hottest and most exciting real estate program in the world today."

Tommy also hosts audio clips by two prominent Costa Rican business executives who praise doing business here. They are, according to the Web site, Ms. Pat Raburn, site manager Intel Costa Rica, and Jack Horvath, general manager and site leader for Proctor & Gamble.

The lawyer’s main complaint was that reporters never talked to Paragon officials before writing two stories about the project. He said that the company "absolutely denies receiving any phone calls or requests to return phone calls by any reporters. All calls are returned. Your allegations in this regard are false and malicious."

A.M. Costa Rica had said reporters tried repeatedly to contact executives of the firm. That is a true statement despite the lawyer’s claim, according to Jay Brodell, editor. He said that a reporter even traveled to the company’s Forum Office Center location in Santa Ana in an attempt  to contact company officials. Eventually the reporter obtained a telephone number in Parrita and left messages with a woman believed to be a secretary for Inri Robles, the president of Paragon. The calls never were returned.

Company responses are a critical point because Paragon has been unusually closed-mouthed about the project to neighbors in the Parrita area.

Herewith is the text of the letter from Fingar:

You recently published two articles "by the A.M. Costa Rica staff" relating to Paragon Properties, with adverse and disparaging information. Since you never bothered to inquire of Paragon with regard to the factual or inferential matters you raised — a basic tenet of serious journalism — it seems only right that you would publish a response promptly and in a prominent manner. I am one of Paragon's U.S. attorneys, and I have been asked to forward this message as the company's response.

Links relevant to the story

Paragon Web site:

Tommy Toucan Web site:

Previous articles

Phone room invites North American buyers 
     Mass marketing techniques for real estate here

Heavily promoted land deal has skimpy contract

What subdivision lot 
buyers should ask

An A.M. Costa Rica report


First, Paragon's plans were always to bring electric to each property, and not merely to a single point in the subdivision, and the company explicitly agrees to install wells and septic tanks as reflected on plans and permits submitted by purchasers. Your intimations to the contrary are unwarranted.

Second, the company absolutely denies receiving any phone calls or requests to return phone calls by any reporters. All calls are returned. Your allegations in this regard are false and malicious.

Third, any unhappiness on the part of local real estate professionals is easily understood in terms of their own greed. The local market is commonly burdened by overcharging by real estate people, and they wish to keep unbrokered property to an absolute minimum. We don't expect them to welcome a direct seller of property.

Fourth, we don't use a "skimpy" contract. The contract is quite comprehensive. Perhaps you meant not skimpy contract, but skimpy materials. However, I take issue with that characterization as well. The materials are extensive, and so are the two Web sites.

Fifth, although a specific lot is not identified in the contract, it is promptly supplied. The lots are virtually fungible; one lot is more or less like any other. A printing deadline and distribution of lots to sales offices simply did not permit specification at the time of mailing.

Sixth, and this is perhaps your most egregious misstatement, is the idea that purchasers cannot cancel at the end of their inspection. That falsity is contradicted by the contract, and elsewhere in the most straightforward language. Your very article states as much.

Finally, I recommend that you explore Paragon's two Web sites, and in order to (belatedly) educate "the staff" with regard to the legitimacy and undertakings of the company.

If you refuse to retract your article, or refuse to publish this rebuttal, legal consequences may follow. 

Michael J. Fingar, Esquire 
EDITOR'S NOTE: The newspaper will not retract the articles.
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Sections of Heredia face
loss of water today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today there will be no water for households in 12 urbanizations and in three industrial centers in La Aurora, southeast Heredia. 

The Empresa de Servicios Publicos of Heredia released this information late Tuesday afternoon and did not give much notice to the people of the affected area. An employee from the Empresa said that the works are necessary to repair damaged water pipes in that area and should not take longer than a day.  But for some companies in the area a water cut can be very costly. 

The industrial centers that are affected included the Ultrapark, La Zona Franca Metropolitana and Fresas del Tropico. Rosaura Vargas, supervisor of the production line at Fresas del Tropico said, "We only found out about the water cut five minutes ago, and it was just by chance. Something needs to be done about this. We need to be given more notice."

The affected urbanization's are El Oeste de San Augustín, La Victoria, Gran Samaria and Aries, as well as La Aurora which includes the condominiums Aprovia, La Florita and Navar, Jerez, Los Cafetos, Nuevo Amanecer and O. R.

Street vendors have won
concessions for aged, infirm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Street vendors evicted from their locations on avenidas 1 and 8 early Monday got a concession from the Municipalidad de San José Tuesday.

Municipal officials agreed that vendors over the age of 60 and those who were disabled or in extreme poverty would get business permits. Officials also said that the number of agricutural fairs in the city would be increased to five a week, about double the current number.

Some 450 vendors are affected by the evictions. They have been in the sites for as much as 10 years.

A group of elderly vendors already had taken the municipality up on an offer of relocation and had accepted new locations outside the central city core.

Johnny Araya, San José mayor, has been working for nearly a year to get the vendors off public sidewalks. He has the support of the municipal council.

Large Mexican TV station
charged with fraud by SEC

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. regulators have charged Mexico's second-largest television broadcasting company and its chairman with fraud.

The Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday alleged that TV Azteca chairman Ricardo Salinas Pliego and two other company executives concealed Salinas' role in debt transactions through which he made $109 million.

The agency also alleged that Salinas and another company executive sold millions of dollars of company stock while shareholders were unaware of Salinas' role in the debt scam. 

The agency said it is seeking fines, repayment of illegal profits and injunctions against future securities violations.  TV Azteca is publicly traded in the United States.

The charges caused TV Azteca's stock to fall about 9 percent on Wall Street. Company shares also declined in trading in Mexico. 

Devaluation was at 9.45 percent

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The annual devaluation of the colon was 9.45 percent in 2004, according to figures maintained by the Banco Central de Costa Rica.

On Jan. 1, 2004, the buy rate for U.S. dollars was 418.04. The rate Jan. 1 this year was 457.58.

The bank engages in a programmed devaluation every business day.

The buy rate is pegged to the U.S. dollar, which itself has declined in value compared to other major currencies over the last year.
A.M. Costa Rica
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James J. Brodell........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas...associate editor

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Massive $437 million plan for new sewers starting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When a San José resident flushes the toilet, the water and waste eventually flow into a river and then into the Pacific.

This is the dirty little secret of the country that prides itself on being environmentally friendly.

But Tuesday, the government’s water and sewer company announced an ambitious project to build a sewage treatment plant in Escazú and provide sewer service to an estimated 85 percent of the persons living in the greater metropolitan area by 2025.

The two-stage project is estimated to cost $437 million in today’s dollars.  Under a proposal explained Tuesday by Heibel Rodríguez, the first stage will provide sewage treatment for 65 percent of the metropolitan area’s population by 2015. He is manager of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantrarillados, the water and sewer company.

The first phase project is being backed by a $100 million infusion from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. However, Rodríguez said the additional individual cost for each citizen in the metropolitan area would be about $8 a month. Some $150 million more would be needed, according to institute figures.

Costa Rican governmental agencies have a habit of announcing major projects and then taking many years to actually complete them. But Rodríguez in his presentation at Casa Presidencial Tuesday outlined the deteriorating condition of the area’s sewers.

Basically the main sewers follow one of four rivers, from east to west: the Rivera, the Torres, the María Aguilar or the Tiribí.  These sewers total 85 kms. in length, some 53 miles. Via a 1,000-km. system of secondary collectors, 575,000 persons are serviced. Rodríguez showed photos of rusted pipes dumping sewage into streams and of children playing in sewer runoff.

Eventually the existing system dumps the sewage into rivers than flow into the Río Grande de Tarcoles. That 

river, featured in a news story about pollution Tuesday, runs into the Pacific north of Jacó and not far from Punta Leona.

The project does not seem to make any provisions for 

Heibel Rodríguez
the rapid growth that is taking place in Escazú and points west, including Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón. The institute estimates that population in the 270 square kilometers encompassed by the plan will be 1.6 million by 2025.

Eastern Escazú is the likely site for a sewage treatment plant because it is at a lower elevation than the communities to the east. The proposal calls for rehabilitation of the existing sewers, 

the construction of 3.5 kms. (2.2 miles) of tunnel near the treatment plant to link all the main lines and some 321 kms. (199 miles) of new secondary collectors. Some 93 kms. (58 miles) of primary sewers also would be built.

A timetable released by the institute shows that no construction would begin until 2009. Until then design and acquisition of easements would take place.

The main benefits of the project would be improvement in the public health by reducing contamination of rivers and streams and the improvement of the subsurface water table by eliminating sewage infiltration, said the institute.

The institute is an independent agency, and it can develop its own projects subject to the country’s general laws. Financial help is needed from the government, and the session Tuesday allowed President Abel Pacheco to announce that the sewer work was starting.

San José firm will distribute artificial skin products
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Texas-based market leader in surgical products, dermatology and tissue testing has entered into a distribution agreement with Elcom of Costa Rica. 

The agreement grants Elcom exclusive distribution rights for Oasis products in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panamá. Based in San José, Elcom provides technologies for the medical market in Costa Rica and surrounding countries. The Texas company is Healthpoint.

The products are like a temporary skin to help wounds heal and natural skin to grow back.

Oasis products are made from a biomaterial that can be used in the management of partial and full-thickness skin loss injuries, such as pressure, venous, and chronic vascular ulcers, diabetic ulcers, surgical and trauma wounds, second degree burns, abrasions, and autograft donor sites, said an announcement.

Marco Jiménez, the founder of Elcom, said that he believes that Oasis products will have a great impact on
the treatment of patients in Costa Rican hospitals. He said that he believes the products will also have a positive affect on the Costa Rican economy although it would not create more jobs in the country. 

"It is a small enterprise made up of nurses, doctors and salesmen who are well equipped to manage this," said Jiménez of his firm. 

Oasis is a natural matrix used to manage a variety of wounds by providing an environment that  allows a patient’s body to rebuild and repair damaged tissue. 

"Elcom is pleased to be Healthpoint’s distributor in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama," said Jiménez.  "We believe there is significant market potential for this innovative wound matrix and look forward to  developing Oasis for patients throughout our national healthcare market." 

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Some questions about buying undeveloped land
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

Purchasing property in a proposed subdivision is risky at best. Even the best-intentioned developer can become the victim of economic forces.

A prudent land purchaser should ask the following questions:

1. What governmental approvals are necessary for this development and which ones already have been granted?

Land without a platted subdivision is just raw land. Here and elsewhere the subdivision process is expensive, long and filled with official obstacles

2. Who actually owns the land?

Frequently a developer will begin a project with just an option to purchase the land at a later date. The developer’s degree of commitment is an indication of the chances the project will be finished.

3. Where are the plans for the water lines, electricity, sewer lines, roadways and other utilities?

In a typical subdivision, the developer makes an initial investment in utilities and infrastructure before the first lot is sold. Roads and other utilities are in. This is an expense of development that is later passed on to the individual buyers. The quality of life in the subdivision is linked to the quality of the infrastructure. 

If the water lines are too small, water pressure will be inadequate. If the roads do not have sufficient base, as persons in Costa Rica are well aware, giant potholes and expensive repair jobs are not far away.

Sewage runs downhill. Sewer lines should, too.

4. Specifically how will sewage be treated?

Many U.S. jurisdictions prohibit subdivisions that use septic tanks. A septic tank on a sprawling farm is frequently adequate. However, hundreds of septic tanks in a subdivision can cause serious health problems and an eventual major expense to put in sewers. Or the area may become uninhabitable.

5. What financial setup guarantees the infrastructure?

Developers frequently post performance bonds to insure municipalities and potential buyers that the promised amenities really will be installed. The bond is backed by a big financial institution like a major insurance company. If the developer fails to do the work, the bonding company has to come up with the cash to get the job done.

6. What are the geological and soil conditions under the subdivision.

No one wants to build on a seismic fault or a former 

landfill. Soil studies are basic to subdividing property. Potential buyers should be able to see these documents, which generally are prepared by an engineer.

In cases where drilled water wells are planned, a land buyer should first have evidence that water exists and at what depth. In addition, water wells may require additional permits.

7. What zoning restrictions will govern the subdivision and how will they be enforced?

Most housing subdivisions have covenants that restrict the use of the land. The idea is to keep the area residential. A neighbor raising a pig may be quaint. A neighbor with 50 pigs, 20 dogs, five horses or a body and fender shop may generate noise, smells and other problems that will restrict the nearby homeowners’ use of their properties.

Many subdivisions set up a homeowners association to oversee life in the community and to enforce the rules.

8. What will be the taxes and other expenses on the property?

A cute trick by some developers is to borrow money against the land and create long-term debt obligations. Then they sell off the land, leaving the homeowners stuck with the debt even after they have paid top price for the property. In Costa Rica, such financial obligations may be hard to trace, particularly when multiple companies are involved.

9. Who will hold the money?

Expats in Costa Rica have been hit with a number of financial scams, investment disasters and bank failures. Getting quick court action is nearly impossible.

When money is put into a trust fund, the obvious question is who is the person holding the money and where have they put the trust fund. Is it in a recognized banking institution?

Costa Rica has several well-known, independent title companies that do this type of work.

10. What is the history of the developer with similar-sized developments?

Potential purchasers should visit other developments built by the same firm, talk to residents and check with local officials to see if the developer lived up to commitments. Every development hits rocky situations and there usually are a few unhappy people. But the would-be purchaser should try to get the general attitude of the community.

A  responsible developer generally welcomes serious buyers and would have no trouble providing adequate responses to these questions.

EDITOR’S NOTE; These questions and comments come from a multitude of sources, including the writer’s personal experiences.

.A funeral that was done on credit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A home for the unwanted elderly in La Rita de Pococi has to come up with funds for a funeral, and public support is sought. The institution is the Tom and Norman Home, which has been a favorite charity of expats.

Eduardo Rojas Rojas, about 80, and a four-year resident of the home died New Year’s Eve in Hospital Calderón Guardia, said Alexis Baquero Benavides, director of the Fundación Ángel de Amor, which operates the home. The man had totally no resources and did not even have a Costa Rican cédula to prove his identity. Therefore, there was no government financial aid for the burial, said Baquero.

The local Funeraria Vida Eterna provided burial services on credit, said Baquero, but now it is time to pay the bill, some 110,000 colons or $240. The Angel of Love Foundation or Fundación Ángel de Amor has a checking account at Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (051-4886-6) to which deposits may be made. The foundation also is trying to build a new wing at the home.

Ambassador, wife are victims

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 31-year-old Colombian woman identified with the surnames Castro Gaviria has been arrested in connection with a theft involving the German ambassador to Costa Rica, Volker Fink and his wife. The incident took place Christmas Eve.

The ambassador and his wife were having lunch at a restaurant in San Rafael de Escazú, said police.  A bag belonging to the ambassadors wife was snatched. It contained a mobile phone, bracelet and cash.  The thief is believed to have escaped by taxi. 

The robbery was reported to the Judicial Investigating Organization by the ambassador. The suspect was found and arrested in San José center Monday evening. Officials said she was identified by the ambassador. 

Farmacia Alvarez photo
Juan Giron Liros, the winner of the bike, is flanked by pharmany manager Mirra Conrado to his right, and Dr. Marianela Vargas, a physician at the pharmacy.

A winner in Heredia bike raffle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A construction worker with four children was the winner of a bicycle raffle by Farmacia Alvarez in Heredia. The winner is Juan Giron Liros. He lives in Santa Barbara de Heredia. The raffle took place Christmas Eve. 

"It’s nice to see the people win and cry because they are so happy," said Glenn Tellier, who operates the pharmacy. "We sure felt good  at the pharmacy . . . "

Jo Stuart
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