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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011,  in Vol. 11, No. 3           E-mail us
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Finer points of immigration law near publication
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Regulations covering application of the immigration law took another step forward Tuesday.

The Consejo de Gobierno, the president's cabinet, got a look at the proposal that has been in the works for nearly a year.

Expats have a deep interest in the regulations because they will affect the day-to-day operation of immigration officials.

The next step is for President Laura Chinchilla to review the regulations. Then, if she is satisfied, she will issue a decree putting them into effect. Casa Presidencial said that this might happen within a week.

Of course, the president might order changes, and that could delay when the rules go into force.

The new immigration law went into effect last March 1. There has been a flood of misinformation. For example, Mario Zamora, then-immigration director, said then that tourists would be able to stay in the country for a full year by paying for 90-day extensions. That may have been the intent of the law, but a close reading seems to say that this benefit only applies to those with less than 90-day visas. The usual North American visa is for 90 days.

He also said at that time that the regulations would be published within 15 days. That this did not happen suggests that there was lengthy negotiations within the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Zamora caused a panic among some expats in February when he said that tourists would not be able to go to the same country twice to renew their visa and that after two trips to renew a visa a tourist will have to stay out of Costa Rica for a minimum of 15 days.

Later he said he was mistaken, but that raised the question of why a man intimately acquainted with the immigration law could be so far off base.
Expats who are so-called perpetual tourists are waiting to see if Zamora really was giving hints of what would be in the regulations.

Government officials were upbeat about the regulations Tuesday, although they did not address specifics. Casa Presidencial said that the Chinchilla administration was seeking an immigration policy that would encourage foreign investment and cause social and economic development.

The regulations cover immigration, legal residency, exits and arrivals to Costa Rica, minors, and the handling of different types of visas.

The new immigration law expanded the types of visas that are available so that the category of tourist is not a catch-all for persons visiting for non-tourism reasons.

Zamora now has been raised to the post of vice ministry with oversight of the immigration department. He said Tuesday that Costa Rica has 600,000 legal foreign residents and that it has the highest per capita number of refugees in the American continent.

The ministries of Comercio Exterior and Trabajo participated in drawing up the regulations.

The law was drawn up and passed during the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. Arias and his aides said they thought that a law passed in the preceding Abel Pacheco administration was too draconian.

It is the new immigration law that requires legal residents here to affiliate with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The purpose is to integrate foreigners into the Costa Rican society, officials have said.

Perpetual tourists are those visitors who leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourism visa. Some have been doing that for years. Others simply give their passports to a local taxi driver who carries the documents to the border for stamping.

One aspect of the new immigration law is to provide recognition to the Policía de Migración.


Key border crossing site gets new computer system
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The heavily traveled Peñas Blancas border crossing to Nicaragua is getting new equipment to keep track of those who seek to enter and leave the country.

The new equipment is undergoing trials. The computerized system reads the passport of an individual and immediately displays data about the person on a computer screen. Presumably this would show the number of times the person entered and left the country and their immigration status.
José María Tijerino Pacheco, the security minister, was at the border crossing over the weekend to observe the system in action.

In the first three days of the year, 4,176 persons left Costa Rica through the border crossing and 14,193 entered.

Many of those arriving were Nicaraguans who spend the holidays with their families in that country. An additional 3,218 persons were caught trying to sneak into the country mostly through woods, the ministry said.

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Top story index
Our readers opinions
Electrical generating plan
is big benefit for residents


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Mr. Douglas makes the point that Costa Rica has some of the highest electricity prices in the world…. and as such causing hardship for consumers.*  What is more worrisome is that while the rest of the world is trying to shake its addiction to oil, Costa Rica is moving towards increased oil consumption at breakneck speed. The addition of the 200 MW (now the largest power plant in the country!) Garabito Thermal Generation Plant is, as Vice President Piva has acknowledged, a "blunder," and a textbook example of both poor planning and execution. When world oil prices are hovering at well above $90 a barrel (even before the world’s economy recover and demand increases!), and oil consumption for power generation here increased 50 percent last year, this blunder is undeniable, especially for a society committed to carbon neutrality.

However, I have some very good news to offset the above gloom! As previously reported in A.M. Costa Rica on Oct. 25, an announcement that most consumers don’t fully understand, The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has introduced a progressive new program which invites consumers to generate their own power. This "net-metering" program is a benefit that our company has worked for over three years to introduce and which affords residential, commercial and industrial customers served by ICE to generate part or all of their own power requirements. Given the two price increases ICE has already applied for in 2011 totaling approximately 12 percent for residential clients this option is increasingly attractive. (The government has also recently enacted legislation which allows us to import renewable energy generation equipment free of ALL taxes, ergo our clients pay no import duties nor 13 percent sales taxes on their solar panels!).

Naturally the consumers best positioned to take advantage of this program to invest in solar or wind generation are the most affluent families. However, we are working to introduce a special program whereby even modest homes can invest in small systems of one or two solar panels and also achieve lower long-term electricity costs and a reduced carbon footprint. A combination of economical equipment and advantageous micro-financing will support this effort.

However, the ICE program which supports this effort is a two-year pilot program or experiment and not yet codified in law or regulation. To make it a success, we need consumers to be aware of it and participate. And we need our leaders (ministers & diputados) and regulators (ARESEP) to support ICE’s bold move and make this program a permanent fixture and available to all consumers, not just those mostly rural consumers served directly by ICE’s distribution company. Customers of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the municipal distributors and all the cooperativas should also be able to participate. All Costa Rican consumers should have the right to control their electricity prices by investing in their own power generation, meanwhile helping to reduce the likelihood of future power shortages as predicted by ICE.

Next consumers need to consider an electric vehicle to be charged by their own solar panels, and that would really help move Costa Rica toward carbon neutrality!

Jim Ryan
President, ASI Power & Telemetry, S.A.
Liberia
 
*Footnote: Context is important in considering his statement. Electricity prices here are indeed double and triple the prices that most North Americans are accustomed to paying, this despite our having such a high percentage of hydro and renewable resources. But when compared to other Central American countries, Costa Rica prices are significantly lower than most, and the quality of service is generally better. Meanwhile service is available to approximately 98 percent of the population.


There are many benefits here
that beat petty annoyances


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Did Mr. Colborn really expect paradise this cheap?  Negative (& even dangerous) things happen here as anywhere, but it seems many people invite trouble with their actions and attitudes. Those who constantly complain should return to the U.S. "paradise" and leave Costa Rica to those of us who appreciate it for what it is, not what Americans think it should be.
 
I guess Canada is selling its power way too cheap to the U.S. if anyone from there thinks Costa Rica electricity is overpriced.  Here I pay less than 10 percent of my monthly bill in Canada and have almost the same amenities. I noted that Mr. Colborn used "they" in each complaint although he has lived here for years.  Perhaps that is the root of his problem.
 
As for my husband and I, for five months a year we gladly put up with petty annoyances in exchange for cheap and delicious fresh fruits and veggies not shipped thousands of miles and for warm sunshine instead of below zero temperatures. We have terrific neighbors who have been a tremendous help and who include us in their festivites and treat us like family. Newcomers may influence change but to insist on change to suit their personal needs has only resulted in disaster throughout history.

I. J. Temple
Santa Gertrudis
 

Illegal parking enforcement
would keep traffic moving

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been following the placa fiasco for some time in total amazement and could no longer resist commenting on the mess which is both confusing and taking up too much time that could be spent by our officials in a more productive way.

Last week after a long day with clients at the Pacific coast, I entered the city around 5 p.m. to drop them off at the Hotel Presidente. The traffic was bad as always but when returning home even worse because the supposedly two-lane street that exits the city was now a one-lane street because there was about 40 cars parked on yellow curbs. This caused traffic to merge right then merge left and so on all the way down the street, causing bottlenecks and frustration every 50 feet or so.

Here is my point; if the yellow curb laws were strictly enforced, we would not need to restrict good, hard working people from doing business in San José one day a week. When clients ask me about a location for a new business, I tell them stay outside of the parameter or your clients will be restricted from driving to your business one day a week. That is 52 days a year you will loose business!

The municipality can make just as much money towing the vehicles of inconsiderate idiots, as they would giving tickets to hard working people who forgot what day it was.

Simply put, enforcing the existing laws instead of fighting over and trying to explain new ones. It may be too simple to work here.
Tom Roucek
Escazú


This is a balanced country
with chips on both shoulders


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thanks for airing different views on life in Costa Rica.

The letters of Tom Colborn and Ted Douglas are absolutely correct.

I have lived in Costa Rica and Panama for eight years and am married to a Tica. My Tico brother-in-law, who is a fairly high government official, warned me of the anti-foreign bias and xenophobia among the average Costa Ricans. 

He said, "we're a balanced people. We have a chip on both shoulders."

I have resided in five countries in my employment before I retired in Costa Rica. It is, without doubt, the most anti-foreign, antagonistic country to foreigners.

I will be moving back to Costa Rica from Panama, but only so my wife can be close to her aged mother and family.

If I were still in the U.S. and didn't have that family obligation, would I choose Costa Rica? Absolutely not.

Real estate agents, tour guides and property peddlers have their own interests.

So what to do?

Do as Ted Douglas suggested. Come and live here for six months or a year and find out for yourself before plunking down your money.
Carl Robbins
Alajuela and Atlanta


 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!

From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary







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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 3
Latigo K-9

License plate restrictions planned for this Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials changed their minds again and are attempting to institute restrictions based on license plate numbers by Thursday. Monday they said they would not do so until next week.

Tuesday, President Laura Chinchilla and Francisco Jiménez Reyes, the transport minister, signed a decree reestablishing the restrictions. They also opted for a revised system that runs from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

If the decree is published in the official La Gaceta today,
the measure will take effect Thursday.

This is a three-month trial of the system. In the past, the restrictions lasted all day.

So Thursday motorists whose license plates end in 7 or 8 will be fair game for traffic police during the specified hours. Friday, those with a last digit of 9 or 0 will face restrictions

The prohibited area still is from Calle Blancos in the north to the Circunvalación in the south and from La Uruca to the Fuente de Hispanidad in front of Mall San Pedro on the east.


International team cites Isla Calero environmental damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An inspection team from the Convention on Wetlands has confirmed Costa Rica's claim that Nicaraguan soldiers and civilians have caused environmental damage at the Isla Calero in the far northeast part of the country.

The team visited the area between Nov. 27 and Dec. 1, and the report was published Tuesday, said Casa Presidencial.

The report adds weight to Costa Rica's case against Nicaragua as it goes to the International Court of Justice in a week.

The convention is called Ramsar after the name of the Iranian city where it was negotiated.

René Castro, the Costa Rica foreign minister, said that the
 team characterized the treatment of the area as ecocide.

That section in northern Costa Rica was listed as an important international wetland in 1996.

Costa Rica has chosen to stress the environmental damage caused by Nicaraguans instead of taking direct action. The international court case, however, will rest on the boundaries and not environmental damage. Nicaragua claims the island is its territory.

The international court is empowered by treaty to establish the boundaries between the two countries. The international line is the south bank of the Río San Juan.

What the Nicaraguans are doing is building a new mouth for the Río San Juan to make the area attractive for tourism development.


Inflation rate for 2010 is 5.82 percent, official figures say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Inflation in Costa Rica in 2010 was 5.82 percent, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas y Censo. That's 1.77 points higher than for 2009, the institute said.

Rentals were up 10.19 percent and alcohol and cigarettes were up 6.59 percent, the institute said.

The year 2010 was the second lowest in inflation of this decade. Inflation was as high as 13.9 percent in 2008 and 13.13 percent in 2004. Except for January 2010 with an inflation rate of 1.63 percent, the increase for each
inflation rate
Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas y Censo  

month was less than 1 percent. September actually saw a tiny decline with -00.08 percent.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 3

lineup
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Young men line up for a pocket inspection by police officers

Police go into tough neighborhoods to root out crooks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorized police units made sweeps through some of the Central Valley's tougher neighborhoods Tuesday and detained 29 persons.

The police swept Sagrada Familia, La Tabla, León XIII, Triangulo de la Solidaridad, Pavas Centro, Lomas del Río and Rincón Grande, Los Guidos, La Carpio, Cristo Rey, the
Hatillos and parts of the central city.

The Fuerza Pública said officers found 10 persons with outstanding warrants and confiscated weapons.

In all police checked out 3,097 persons and 520 vehicles. They also checked 347 motorcycles, they said. The haul included 16 knives and marijuana, cocaine and crack. Eight of the arrests were for drug law violations.



Emergency commission tries to make peace with Alajuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When the national emergency commission decided to construct homes for those who had their properties destroyed in the Cinchona earthquake, it spent 570 million colons for land, about $1.2 million.

The whole project is 5.2 billion colons, some $10 million.

But no one cleared the project with the Municipalidad de Alajuela.

The commission contends that the laws under which it
operates exempt it from municipal concerns. But it had decided to address some of the concerns brought up by the municipality.

There are 46 of them, and the commission said Tuesday it had responded to each one. The agency also brought in experts to vouch for the structural integrity of the buildings.

Some 1,200 persons are expected to live in the new community in Cariblanco north of Heredia. A Jan. 8, 2009, earthquake destroyed the community of Cinchona, killed 23 and left seven missing.

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For your international reading pleasure:

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 3

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Air passengers and cargo
grew substantially in 2010


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Passenger and freight air traffic grew substantially in 2010 as positive economic prospects worldwide overshadowed the depressed levels of 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, according to preliminary United Nations figures.

In a report on trends compiled annually for its members, the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization said the substantial growth in traffic reflects positive economic prospects worldwide – based on a forecast of a 4 per cent increase in the world’s real gross domestic product – and that total scheduled passenger traffic, both international and domestic, measured in passenger-kilometers performed, increased by about 8 per cent year over year.

Created in 1944, the International Civil Aviation Organization promotes the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation and sets standards and regulations necessary for safety, security, efficiency and regularity, as well as for aviation environmental protection. The 190 countries that make up the organization’s membership use the report’s findings for planning purposes, in areas such as infrastructure and plane purchases.

The International Civil Aviation Organization said that the number of passengers carried in 2010 was up 6.3 per cent over 2009, at some 2.5 billion passengers, while cargo – measured in freight-tonne kilometers performed – posted a dramatic jump of 18.9 per cent after a sharp decline of 11 per cent the previous year. The jump in cargo traffic was in with a sharp rebound in global trade and its largest increase in three decades.

International passenger traffic grew by 8.8 per cent, led by a strong rebound in business and leisure long-haul travel, particularly in emerging markets such as the so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – where outgoing tourism flourished.

The largest percentage growth was registered by the airlines of the Middle East with 21 per cent, followed by those of the Asia/Pacific region with 12.9 per cent, Latin America with 11.4 per cent and Africa with 10 per cent. Traffic in the mature markets of North America and Europe grew by 6.2 per cent and 6.7 per cent, respectively. The lower growth figures relate to a larger traffic base and still represent significant increases.

Europe is still benefiting from the ability of low-cost carriers to expand their point-to-point markets, due in part to the geographical enlargement of the European Union. Demand for travel remained strong and resilient despite the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, which partially closed European airspace in the spring, disrupting business and leisure travel and paralyzing air cargo movements.

The International Civil Aviation Organization found that more than 100,000 flights were cancelled in 2010, including 80 per cent of the intra-European market, while nine million passengers were affected.

Domestically, markets overall grew by 6.9 per cent. Rates of 1.5 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 4 per cent in North America, the Middle East and Africa respectively, were offset by rates of 15.1 per cent in the Asia/Pacific region, 15.9 per cent in Latin America and 12.2 per cent in Europe.

The recovery in cargo traffic was led by the Asia/Pacific region, with an increase of 24.8 per cent, while all regions posted double-digit growth, the highest being the Middle East at 34.1 per cent.

The two major aircraft manufacturers, Boeing of the United States and the European Airbus, are expected to have delivered more than 950 new aircraft in 2010, 40 per cent of them aimed at replacing aircraft in mature markets. These energy-efficient planes will help reduce the carbon footprint of aviation on the environment and support efforts towards reversing climate.

Looking ahead, the International Civil Aviation Organization said that based on more than 4 per cent growth in the world economy for the next three years, it forecasts that passenger traffic will increase by 4.7 per cent and 4.9 per cent in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oil prices, currently above $80 per barrel, remain a potential impediment to growth, although this could be mitigated by the delivery of new and more fuel efficient aircraft.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 3

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Latin American news
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Fine for using bus lane
soars to 308,235 colons

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fine for using a bus lane on the Autopista General Cañas has increased to 308,235 colons, some $609.

The increase is because fines are based on a base judicial salary, and salaries increased at the first of the year 7.75 percent.

Transport officials continue to reveal the rules they are enforcing on the highway. For example, the transport ministry said that tourism buses do not count as buses and may not use the outside lanes that are reserved for buses. Taxis and other non-bus transportation also are forbidden from the lanes. That includes airport taxis.

There also are weight restrictions at peak hours for truckers.

Transport officials are clear in that they are trying to encourage commuters to use buses instead of their own car. They also pointed out that soon train service will begin between Belén and the existing route.

The traffic problem is being compounded by work on the bridge over the Río Virilla. There were significant tie ups much of Tuesday.


Judiciary irked with work
on downtown Avenida 8

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de San José is closing part of Avenida 8 that runs west along the south side of the judicial center in the downtown. The Poder Judicial is unhappy and said that it might go to court to stop the project.

The municipality has been rebuilding the key road. The part that will be closed for five months is between Calle 25 and 13.

The Poder Judicial in a statement noted that the avenue runs along the south side of the buildings housing the Corte Suprema de Justicia, the Judicial Investigating Organization and the courts.

The city has specified some detours, but none is as rapid at Avenida 8.

The Poder Judicial statement came from Alfredo Jones León, executive director of the Poder Judicial. He said city engineers promised to devise a plan to give vehicle access to the judicial buildings but they did not follow through.

He promised legal and constitutional actions to protect the continuity of service to the public.


Fee for postal boxes due
in January without surcharge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who have postal boxes with Correos de Costa Rica have until the end of the month to renew them without penalty.

After Jan. 31, the postal service assesses a 50 percent surcharge. In March they take the box.

Nearly all businesses and many individuals have postal boxes or apartados postales because home delivery is inconsistent.

In urban areas, the postal box costs 4,800 colons a year. In rural areas, the cost is 1,800. That's about $9.50 and about $3.56.

There are about 70,000 postal boxes in use in the country, and Correos says it has boxes available to rent.




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