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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Jan. 5, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 2       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Lawyers love to make simple things complicated
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many times going to see a lawyer in Costa Rica is like taking a science lesson.  Sometimes they tend to make any discussion about the law or a legal matter very complex.  They love to write out lengthy descriptions of legal procedures on blackboards or whiteboards.

There are times when this is important.  A thorough explanation of a subject needs to be outlined in detail so a client can understand the facts.  This is especially the case for many expats who do not speak Spanish — or are up in their years — to grasp the intricacies of a situation or a legal case. This is not true in many other matters. A simple explanation is better.  Most importantly, many expats prefer a succinct discussion to a long, drawn out one.

The fact is Costa Rican lawyers do not do "simple" very well.   They feel they need to dive into a subject deeply.  This is not a criticism. It is probably just part of the culture.  It goes along with greeting someone.  It is very difficult for Costa Ricans not to go through a long greeting process when they meet another person.  They feel the need to ask about everyone in the family and current events.  In many cases, they feel slighted if they feel the other party is in a rush and cannot engage in a lengthy greeting.  This is true for telephone conversations too.   Most expats on the other hand like to get down to business.  They like, "Hello how are you, what's the bottom line," type of conversations.

There are attorneys that need to make a show to justify their fees.  If something is too simple, it must mean it is not very valuable, and, thus, they cannot charge very much for it.  A matter that is complex justifies more money. 

Attorney and notary fees in Costa Rica are based on a "tabla," or a set table.  The table is created by the local bar association called the Colegio de Abogados.

Some 10 years ago, a person filed a constitutional case against the setting of fees. They stated among many other things that it was anticompetitive and a type of price fixing.  During the time the constitutional court was studying the matter, the use of the fee table was suspended.  In the end, the justices found the setting of fees to be legal, and the use of the fee table was reinstated.

In 2005, Executive Decree 32493 ended any other further discussion over the matter by ratifying Article 1, Section b of Law 6595, stating that the Colegio de Abogados is the responsible entity for setting all fees for attorneys and notaries.   The bar association comes up with the fee calculations and then sends it to the Poder Ejecutivo,  the executive branch of the government, for approval.

It is not too hard to figure out that almost everyone involved in the fee structure for attorneys and notaries is at least one of them.  They are the foxes setting the rules for the hen house.

The fee table used by attorneys and notaries in Costa Rica is more of a guideline than a strict pricing rule.   However, when it is convenient for the professional to use it, they adhere to it rigidly.  This is normally the case when something is easy to do and takes virtually no time at all and should cost much less than the fee schedule states.   On the other hand, with truly complex matters that go far beyond the scope of the pricing of the fee table, the same professional will discard it and ask for more money.

In other parts of the world — like the United States — many legal matters can be performed without an attorney.  Two examples most expats are familiar with are transferring the deed of a car or a property.  In most states, the transfer of a vehicle is as easy as signing the back of a title 
simple made complicated

and getting the signature notarized.  This is far from
true in Costa Rica.  A notary is needed to transfer a vehicle because they need to put the transaction in their protocol book, make a testimony of the act, and submit it to the Registro Nacional.  The same is true for the transfer of a property in this country.

In addition to transferring assets, most states in the United States have approved, standardized forms people can use for a variety of other legal matters, even divorce.  There are a few — very few — forms one can use here for certain legal activities.  The most common is the renting of an apartment or a house.   Forms are available — but very hard to find — for a rental agreement.   The rule of thumb in this country is a person needs an attorney for court and a notary for anything official that needs registration in the Registro Nacional.

The notary fee, as much as 1.5 percent of the deal for property transfers, is a drag on the economy.

In theory, all this mumbo jumbo and added official paperwork is to curb fraudulent transactions when, in fact, what it has done is contributed to an increase in property crime and the illegal transfer of other assets as well.

Here are two facts regarding legal professionals most people do not know.  Attorneys and notaries have a kind of insurance to cover errors and omission and outright negligence.  However, the amount of insurance is so minuscule that it is virtually worthless in a legal dispute.  In addition, the statute of limitations for the bar association to discipline, as in suspend or expel a legal professional, is only two years from the date of the act.  Not the date one finds out about it, but from the actually date of the mistake.

For the New Year, here is a bit of good advice for working with legal professionals in Costa Rica.   Understand the fee table they use is a guideline and realize that all fees can be negotiated.   Even though it is not very easy to find good and honest lawyers and notaries, shop around for legal services if pricing is an issue.  Feel free to discuss pricing openly with the legal professional.  Most importantly, pay based on results.  The carrot in front of the horse really works here.  Set objectives and pay accordingly.  If a discussion regarding a legal matter is getting out of hand and turns into a classroom course in calculus, ask politely for the "nitty gritty."

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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Central city restrictions
go back into force today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of fuel has fallen, but government officials are not getting rid of the driving ban for central San José.

A prohibition that keeps about 20 percent of the vehicles out of the area each rush hour goes back into effect today. The ban had been relaxed over Christmas.

The restrictions today are for vehicles that have a 1 or a 2 as the last digit on the license plate.

The restricted zone includes the Circunvalación to the south and La Uruca to the west, as well as nearly all of the central city.

Drugs and firearms focus
of Fiestas police effort

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers said that they detained 79 persons during the 10 days of the Fiestas de San José in Zapote and confiscated 10 firearms.

The Fuerza Pública said that the bulk of the arrests were for violation of the drug laws, domestic violence and what they called  contravenciones contra buenas costumbres. That usually means someone caught in the act of reliving him or herself in public.

Officers also confiscated nine knives.

Although some of the firearms were registered legally and the person carrying them had the proper permit, police said that a carnival like the one in Zapote was no place for someone to carry a gun. Costa Rican law also prohibits carrying a firearm in a bar.

Free trader Richardson
bows out of Obama cabinet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

In a development that changes the composition and perhaps the policies of the Obama administration, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for nomination as the U.S. president-elect's commerce secretary.

Richardson is the first individual of Latin parentage to be named to Barack Obama's cabinet, he is a strong proponent of free trade.

Many trade treaty opponents here hope that Obama will agree to renegotiate the treaty, but Richardson would have been a strong stumbling block. Still in the cabinet is Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State designate, who backs free trade.

Richardson said Sunday his decision stems from a federal grand jury investigation into a company that contributed to his political activities and won a contract with the state he leads.

In a statement, Richardson said he and his administration have acted properly in all matters. But he said the ongoing investigation could take weeks, or months, and could delay his Senate confirmation to Obama's Cabinet.

Obama said he accepted Richardson's withdrawal with deep regret. The president-elect said Richardson's decision is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first.

Richardson was a rival to Obama for the Democratic Party presidential nomination last year. Richardson says he will remain in his job as governor of New Mexico for now.

Mr. Obama selected Richardson to head the Commerce Department in December.

The governor is a former congressman and served under former President Bill Clinton as energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Our reader's opinion
Young man with 56 arrests
gives Miami writer headache

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I don't know what to say or think anymore re: the issue of crime in Costa Rica or how it's handled. A thinking person gets nothing but a splitting headache just trying to figure out how law enforcement thinks here, if at all.

The example I am referring to appears on the Jan. 2 second page of this publication where a story is covered concerning a young punk who only committed 56 crimes in 2008 (apparently NOT a misprint!!) before finally being collared for attempted armed robbery.

Such luck I wish I had in life, and I've never aspired to the criminal life! Well, now after 56 get-out-of-jail free cards, Sr. Miscreant gets to think things over in preventative detention where he'll probably hone his larcenistic skills to a fine edge.

Great. I'm sleeping better already.

Then, on the same page we learn of some poor old street vendor of fireworks who gets shaken down by the law for over $3,000 U.S. dollars in confiscated product! It is explained that things that go 'boom' are not tolerated in social circles in Costa Rica! Well, golly gee whiz! Another
bad guy brought to task!

I'd laugh but my ailment might morph into a migraine at this point.

PURA something! I just don't know what.
Albert Cheney
Miami, Florida

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 2

Importing under new treaty could be a maze for expats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Individual expats who seek to import goods under the new free trade treaty with the United States and other Central American countries face a bewildering process.

Little authoritative material has been published saying exactly how the treaty affects foreigners living here. A.M. Costa Rica has reported that automobiles from North America still face high import fees because Costa Rica considers these payments to be an internal tax and not an import duty.

Also reported is that wines from the U.S. in two-liter bottles or smaller became duty free when the treaty went into effect Jan. 1. But not sparkling wine that incurs duty for five more years.

One curious fact is that the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior, the foreign trade ministry, has said without explanation that the trade treaty will not have a financial effect on Costa Rica. Most government agencies both here and in the United States have been focusing their efforts on selling the treaty to voters and legislators instead of outlining the effects on the average citizen.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture prepared extensive summaries by state to show how the treaty would help local producers. One snippet confirms that Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are eliminating their duty on yellow corn immediately and that duties on other corn products, like corn syrup, will be phased out over 15 years.

Some potato products like frozen french fries became free of duty Jan. 1, and all duties will be eliminated in 15 years, except for fresh potatoes in Costa Rica, where liberalization will occur through expanded access, with an initial quantity of 300 metric tons, said the department.

Current duties on potatoes in the Central American countries are generally 15 percent, it added.

Current import duties on U.S. beef exports are as high as 30 percent, but duties on prime and choice cuts are eliminated immediately in Central American countries, the department added.

For some reason Costa Rica has not eliminated custom duties immediately on U.S. blueberries, as have the other treaty countries. Instead, Costa Rica will phase out its 15
percent duty over five years, according to the treaty.

Although some of this saving may be passed along to consumers at PriceSmart and other stores that cater to expats, most residents here are more concerned with importing clothing and other e-mail order items that used to result in endless visits to the Dirección General de Aduana.

Although the treaty said that 80 percent of U.S. products would be free of duty when the treaty went into effect, some desired goods, like U.S. beer, face a lengthy period of duty reduction.  A separate amendment to the treaty spells out Costa Rica's promise to cut duty. For beer:

"On the date this agreement enters into force, duties shall be reduced by 2 percent of the base rate, and by an additional 2 percent of the base rate on Jan. 1 of year two. On Jan. 1 of year three duties shall be reduced by an additional 8 percent of the base rate, and by an additional 8 percent each year thereafter through year six. On Jan. 1 of year seven duties shall be reduced by an additional 16 percent of the base rate, and by an additional 16 percent of the base rate  each year thereafter through year nine, and such goods shall be duty-free effective Jan. 1 of year 10."

The amendment specifies four categories of products that may not reach duty-free status for 15 years.

A compounding factor to the bewilderment of expats is a statement from the customs division of the Ministerio de Hacienda that importers have to select which treaty rules will be used for their products. There are differences among goods imported from the U.S. and those imported from other treaty countries.

In addition, a lot of the clothing and other items expats want to import from the United States actually are manufactured elsewhere and may not be covered by the treaty.

For its part, the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior reports that it will be addressing some treaty contingencies this week.

Curiously, there has been no effort by the U.S. Embassy or other U.S. agencies to provide a working summary for expats here. The U.S. International Trade Administration's Trade Information Center has an extensive summary of the many categories of goods in the treaty, but the material appears overwhelming to persons not in the import-export business.

Holiday period chalked up heavy toll of violent deaths
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Preliminary figures show that 82 persons died violent deaths from Dec. 20 to Jan. 1, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Events from Friday through Sunday added more to the total.

The report said that 17 persons died as victims of murder and that the deaths of 20 more persons still were under investigation. Five persons committed suicide.

Added to the total is the New Year's Day murder of a 79-year-old man near Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula and the murder of an 83-year-old man in Santa Rita de  Orotina. And in Cairo de Siquirres a 37-year-old man died early Friday of a gunshot wound after a fight.

Saturday two persons on foot, perhaps youths, shot and killed a motorist in El Llano de Alajuelita and someone killed a man with a gunshot in León XIII in Tibás.

Of those who died between Dec. 20 and Jan. 1, some 14 were victims of water accidents. Two more such deaths over the weekend added to the toll. Some 23 persons died by being hit by a vehicle or by being in a vehicle that was involved in a collision. A motorcyclist died when his vehicle hit a cow Dec. 20.

There were no deaths in the bull ring at the Fiestas de San José in Zapote. Would-be matadors suffered broken bones and concussions from confronting fighting bulls, but no deaths were reported, even though one of the bulls that was promoted for the closing event Sunday has claimed two persons elsewhere.

Hundreds of men and women risked their lives every
afternoon since Christmas Day to stay in the ring with a bull. Some entered the ring on the back of a bull, simulating the efforts of rodeo riders.

One person who died was the hunter who had been the object of a search in the mountains north of San José for a week. Cruz Roja searchers located his body Sunday afternoon in Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. Family members speculated earlier that he might have been the victim of an animal, but details were few as rescue personnel tried to bring his body out by a difficult land route.

Investigators think that the shooting of the motorist, Alonzo Brenes, 29, in Alajuelita was revenge. His vehicle ran off the road after he was shot but nothing appears to have been taken.

Mauricio Mason Crawford died of a gunshot wound to the neck that appears to have happened during a New Year's party in Cairo de Siquirres. Fuerza Pública officers arrested two young men who are neighbors.

The 79-year-old man who died Sunday at Dos Brazos de Río Tigre on the Osa Peninsula, was one of three persons shot in a confrontation. He was identified as Ulises Cirilo Gallo Gallo.  The Fuerza Pública tracked a man identified by the last names of Segura Muñoz to a home of a family member in the nearby mountains where he surrendered, they said.

The murder in Orotina was of an elderly man with the last name of Monge, who was watching the home of familiy members. He was surprised New Year's Day and knifed to death by men who came to rob the home. Investigators have detained suspects.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 2

Cuba's Raúl Castro says he's open to direct talks with Obama
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Raúl Castro says he is open to direct talks with the incoming U.S. president, saying he believes Barack Obama is an honest and sincere man who could improve relations between the two countries.

However, Castro said he is in no hurry, and is not sure Obama can change what the Cuban leader called the "overall hostile U.S. policy" towards Cuba.

President-elect Obama has said he would be willing to speak with Cuba's leaders. But he also says he will keep the long-standing economic embargo as a way to push for democratic change.

Castro's comments, aired Friday on state television, came the day after Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of the revolution that brought his brother Fidel Castro to power.

During his speech Thursday marking the 50th anniversary of the victory of the revolutionary government, Raúl Castro praised his country's achievements and longevity.

Castro spoke in the eastern city of Santiago, where his brother Fidel declared victory over ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista 50 years ago. The two brothers were in charge of rebel forces that took control of the island in a series of battles, prompting Batista to flee the island Jan. 1.

In his speech, Raúl Castro praised the dedication and commitment of the revolutionary forces and the Communist government that formed later. He repeated  
parts of a speech his brother gave at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

He said the tyrant has been defeated and Cubans are very joyful, but there is still much to accomplish.

Since taking power from his brother more than two years ago, Raúl Castro has called for a series of reforms to improve government efficiency and revive the economy. Last week, officials said a series of hurricanes hurt business this year, but they hoped for economic improvements in 2009.

Fidel Castro did not attend Thursday's anniversary celebration. The 82-year-old leader has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006.

Raúl Castro praised his brother during the speech, saying one man cannot create history alone, but that Fidel has had a great influence during his lifetime. He recalled the ability of Fidel and other Cuban leaders to persist in spite of intense pressure from the United States.

He said every U.S. administration has tried to change Cuba's government to varying degrees of aggressiveness, but the nation has always been able to resist.

The Cuban leader also cited a list of disputes and crises between the United States and Cuba, including a failed U.S.-backed assault in 1961, and the discovery of Soviet missiles inside Cuba one year later. He said the Cuban Revolution is stronger now than ever before and will not cede any of its principles.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 2

A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Second-hand smoke study
sees link with heart attacks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. health experts say laws that bar smoking in public places appear to dramatically cut the number of heart attacks, according to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers studying a smoking ban in the western U.S. state of Colorado say a no smoking law in one city led to a 40 percent decrease in the number of residents hospitalized for heart attacks.

Terry Pechacek, a physician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health, says the study indicates that second-hand smoke may be an under-recognized cause of heart attack deaths.

"For too long we have considered exposure to second-hand smoke in restaurants, bars, and other places as typical and common, however, these data indicate that even brief exposure to second-hand smoke can produce rapid and adverse changes in the functioning of the heart and blood, and cause heart attacks," he said.

In 2003, the city of Pueblo, Colorado, passed a law making public places and workplaces smoke-free. Researchers say they found there were 399 hospital admissions for heart attacks in Pueblo in the 18 months before the ban. After the no-smoking law was passed, 237 people were hospitalized for heart attacks in the same time period.

Pechacek said researchers also studied nearby areas in Colorado without smoking bans. He says they found there was no significant change in the number of heart attack hospitalizations in these areas.

"The fact that there was no change in the comparison counties and the comparison areas around Pueblo suggests that the only thing that is reasonable to assume as having this big effect was the impact of the law, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says other studies have reported that laws making public places smoke-free have led to rapid reductions in hospital admissions for heart attacks, but this is the only study that has looked at the effects over a longer period of three years.

Pechacek says he hopes the findings will lead to more laws banning public smoking in the U.S. as well as other countries.

"These data add further weight to that provision and strongly encourage that every country around the world recognize that smoking in any enclosed space is very dangerous to the non-smokers, and one of the best things we can do for public health is encourage smoke-free policies," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that second-hand smoke exposure causes 46,000 heart disease deaths every year in the United States alone.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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