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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 10, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 6
Jo Stuart
About us
Flood toll continues to mount on Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
posted at 3 p.m. Monday

Much of southeastern Costa Rica has been cut off by extensive flooding. The entire community of Sixaola near the Panamá border appears from the air to be underwater to the rooftops.

Some 13 bridges have been destroyed or damaged by the flooding induced by heavy rains over the weekend. Landslides on the San 

José-Guápiles highway have closed that major road from time to time as they occur.

The Limón-Sixaola highway has been closed, including access to the tourist areas of Puerto Viejo and Cauhita.

Officials are maintain a red alert as they evaluate the damage.

Earlier story BELOW!

Fearless guide
on a river tour

A tour guide at the Río Tarcoles gives the presentation of "the jumping crocodile" where he gets up close and personal with one of the larger crocodiles and causes it to perform. 


See story BELOW!

Photo by Sheldon Haseltine

Country's long history of dream developments
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is characterized by many old timers as the land of the "wanted and the unwanted." Some who come here are wanted criminals by other nations and others just do not fit in somewhere else, so they come to this country to live.

Want to make a million dollars in Costa Rica? Come with two and maybe you will leave with one.  This advice given to newcomers for over 30 years should now have an inflation adjustment.   Bring $5 to $10 million to leave with one.

These statements are no joke.  This writer has personally seen it happen over and over again in 33 years.  Those who are lucky get to leave. Some just die along the way trying to get their original nesteggs back fighting the legal battles that ensue.

Even the best-looking real estate or financial deal may have hidden pitfalls.

There are many examples of this from Costa Rica’s not so distant past.  Nosara is one, developed by Alan David Hutchison. Potrero-Flamingo was another, and Playa Grande of Guanacaste yet another.  The original developers of these projects are long gone. Most are dead.

Nosara, now a Costa Rican tourism jewel, was nothing more than pasture totaling 1,110 hectares (2,718 acres) from 1969 to 1972.  One man and a well-known Costa Rica law firm combined three fincas (farms) to create two companies to sell land to foreigners.  He placed classified ads in U.S. publications including the Wall Street Journal to find buyers.  He knew something then that no one else did in those days. 

The lands legally came into being only 10 years earlier in 1961. The Costa Rica government in those days sold for one colon (less than one U.S. dollar) areas of Guanacaste, including what is now known as Nosara, to the Instituto de Tierras y Colonización (Institute of Lands and Colonization) to be redistributed to those living there for small sums as kind of a homesteading plan.

The developer bought up those parcels for almost nothing, combining properties into sections and then slivering them off as small subdivided pieces and sold those lots to the many buyers answering his ads.  He even offered fantastic payment plans making the purchase of a lot so attractive it was irresistible.

He promised an incredible development with golf courses, tennis courts, manicured landscaping and the like.  Since most of the land was open pastureland for cattle grazing, it was easy to see the vision painted by those selling the project.  Many people bought into the dream.

One day the principal just picked up and left.  With the money, of course. 

The teenaged sister of this writer was working 

Original 31-year-old plan for Nosara

for the developer as a summer job so she could be close to the beach in those days.  A wonderful time for her, until one day it all ended, for her and all those buyers. 

Many of them bought the property for future investment so they did not live in Costa Rica.  When they came back, they found a nightmare.  The jungle had reclaimed the region.  Few could even make out what lot was theirs.

Now 30 some years later, the Nosara Civic Association and the Surfside property owners’ association of Potrero are still trying to organize controlled development.  Many other organizations do the same throughout Costa Rica in similar development projects gone bust.

What is the point to this story? 

The point is today, there are even bigger super projects being marketed for a piece of Costa Rica.  However today, developers have Web sites, multicolored brochures with enhanced pictures in design programs like Photoshop to entice buyers.  They also have Fedex and DHL to pickup deposits anywhere in the world so one does not even need to see a property to snag it.  Some of these projects are selling out fast, with the owner’s collecting literally millions and millions of dollars.

What was true 30 years ago is true today.  A project has a development plan or it does not.  Fancy promotion to sell land in Costa Rican can be someone’s way to make a lot of money.  How can one know for sure?

Well it is hard to know for sure about any project. 

Using common sense helps but only when combined with true due diligence.  This term means doing a careful investigation of the information in any offer including, but not limited to, having access to financial and accounting information, feasibility and environmental studies to discover the risks and value to any transaction.  If a development cannot supply you with any and all information you request, back off. 

There are many good investments in Costa Rica.  Finding them is the trick.

Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community. He can be reached at Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. 

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Limón, northern zone
facing new flood disaster

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s Caribbean slope and northern zone took another hit from Mother Nature Sunday. At least 2,000 persons are known to have been driven from their homes.

An 8-year-old boy who was fishing on the Río Tortuguero became the first presumed fatality when he fell in.

The country’s emergency commission issued a red alert for the whole area and said that the weather predictions are for continued rain through Monday evening.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional, the weather bureau, said that 311 mms. of rain (12.44 inches) fell in Limón on the Caribbean coast Saturday night alone. That amount is more than the average rainfall for the region for the month of January.

The full extent of the problems are not clear because many communities are isolated. Travel on main highways was said to be difficult because some bridges were below the water line of the rivers they cross.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said in San José trucks were being loaded with mattresses and blankets in anticipation that more persons would be forced into shelters. Some 21 shelters were operational by Sunday evening.

According to the commission, the communities most affected in the Province of Limón are Matina, Talamanca, Siquirres, Pococí, Guácimo and Limón centro.  Heavy rain also was reported in Paraíso de Cartago and Sarapiquí de Heredia. In Sarapiquí alone some 600 persons have been displaced by rising water.

A  special emergency command post has been opened in Limón to coordinate the activities of the local emergency committees.

Trade czar Zoellick
getting post at State

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON D.C. — President George Bush said Friday that he has nominated Robert Zoellick as the deputy secretary of State. Speaking from the White House lawn, Bush said that Zoellick and Condoleeza Rice will form one of the "strong, capable foreign policy teams our country has ever had." She is the secretary of State designate.

Many Costa Ricans remember Zoellick from his visit to Costa Rica in October 2003, when he promoted the Central American Free Trade agreement. 

Before his nomination, Zoellick worked as the U.S. trade representative that worked closely with the Central American and Area of the Americas free trade agreements.

During his visit in 2003, many Costa Ricans believe that Zoellick threatened to demand that the government dismantle the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad as part of the free trade agreement. 

While Zoellick maintained that ICE was an integral part of Costa Rican society, many local media outlets claimed that Zoellick’s main goal during his visit was to issue an ultimatum. 

Zoellick has worked closely with Rice in the past when she was the national security adviser. During his time in Washington, Zoellick has supported close transatlantic relations and the privatization of public services.

Zoelick’s nomination, however, has created a vacuum in the World Bank. Many prominent economists favored Zoelick as the next president of the bank.

The position at the World Bank opened for the first time in 10 years when current president James Wolfensohn announced his retirement at the beginning of the year. 

Zoellick’s nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

Newspaper hits exceed
1.5 million in December

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Statistics at the U.S.-based server show that A.M. Costa Rica received more than 1.5 million hits in December.

The total hits do not include those generated by other computers. There were 85,175 additional hits generated by robots, worms, or replies with special HTTP status codes. These were not included in the basic statistics.

December is the first month that the total hits exceeded 1.5 million. The actual number is 1,575,854, an 18.7 percent increase over November. In November there were 1,327,834 hits, but the statistics were incomplete due to a change to a new server to provide more consistent availability for readers.

Readers visited the newspaper 79,323 times and viewed 288,570 pages, according to the independent statistical program maintained by the server operators. This also was up  22.1 percent  from 64,941
in November.

Another survey instrument also reflected A.M. Costa Rica’s dominance of the English-language news from Costa Rica. Alexa, the company associated with said that this newspaper had the 77,895th most visited site in the world. The total of Web sites run into the 10s of millions. By contrast, The Tico Times was rated 122,621st.

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How a radio character became the Tico word for gossip
Ser un(a) vino(a)

No, this dicho does not have anything to do with wine. Actually, a vino or vina is someone who likes to nose around into other people’s business. There’s a long family story here, but let me see if I can encapsulate it:

Once upon a time, my father had a cousin who was a very well-known comedian. She created many different characters on Radio Columbia by inventing a whole host of funny voices. She had a show that aired at noon five days a week in which she played all the female characters. But the primary character she created for the show was Rafaela (pronounced Rafela in Costa Rican), a young woman who worked as a maid in a household where many curious things happened, though, of course, Rafaela could never tell. In all modesty I feel it can truly be said that Carmen Granados Soto was probably the most famous Costa Rican comedian of all times.

Later in her career, Carmen Granados Soto created another radio personality whom she called Doña Vina. Doña Vina liked to call all her friends up to tell them some juicy piece of gossip about all the rest of her friends. The entire show took place in the form of a one-sided telephone conversation. In other words, we only heard Doña Vina’s voice.

At the very end of the show, when her husband arrived home for lunch, he would loudly call out "Vinaaa!" And she would always say she had to hang up because her husband had just come home. This radio program became so popular in the 70s and early 80s that anyone who was a gossipy type got referred to as a Doña Vina. Her character literally became synonymous with the nosy, old busybodies of the world, in other words a true archetype. 

When someone starts prying into your personal affairs, no matter who they are, you have every right to tell them: No seavino(a). Don’t be so nosy. Other uses for this expression might be: Que vina esa señora  (What a busybody that woman is.) or Alli viene la vina del barrio. (Here comes the busybody of the neighborhood.) But it’s wise to use this expression with caution. After all, you don’t want to offend the Vina del barrio lest you become the unwitting subject of her little slanders. 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

But, getting back to Carmen Granados Soto, she was really very talented. She was at Zapote every year entertaining spectators at the bull fights by telling jokes and using all her different voices. 

The radio character of Rafaela was a very well mannered, and modest person who attended Mass every day on her lunch hour. But Rafaela’s friend Juanita — also played by Carmen Granados Soto — was not quite so demure. She was always on the lookout for good-looking men in the streets, and the tales of her slightly naughty adventures scandalized poor Rafaela.

Costa Ricans miss Carmen. Like all master comedians, she used satire to turn a looking glass upon us so that we easily recognized ourselves in her many characterizations. 

This is not to say that much has really changed in Costa Rica. Gossip is still a national pastime second only probably to soccer. We just don’t call it gossip (charlanduría) any more, now we call it vinazo. So now when someone tells you they have a vinazo you’ll know they want to tell you some juicy tattle about the neighbors, or someone at the office, or your cousin’s girlfriend’s aunt, etc.etc. But now you know how to tell them in Costa Rican to mind their own business: ¡No sea vino(a)!

Daniel Soto divides his time between Indiana and Costa Rica, where he owns a home in Santo  Domingo de Heredia.

Palmares festival opens
Wednesday with horses

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Las Fiestas de Palmares will begin this Wednesday with the Noche de Luces at 6 p.m. The annual festival takes place every January and is widely considered to be one of the best festivals in Costa Rica. 

The town of Palmares begins planning for the festival in mid-July. The festival is well-organized and, therefore, is a fun event for families and people of all ages. This year’s festival will run for 12 days, finishing on Monday, Jan. 24.

The entire city is transformed during the festival as fireworks and concerts take over the main city squares. In the fair grounds north of the city, roller coasters and other fair rides are set up. 

The tope, the procession of purebred horses through the town, kick starts the party Thursday. Afterwards, a series of sporting events, concerts, and bull fights keep the party going for the rest of the festival.

The town of Palmares is located west of San José, just south of San Ramon in the Central Valley.

Alajuelita honors patron,
Black Christ of Esquipulas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fiesta of the Black Christ of Esquipulas began on Friday in Alajuelita. The festival began with traditional Costa Rican dancing and a masquerade throughout the streets.

The annual festival honors the patron saint of Alajuelita, the Black Christ. Locals honor their patron saint through traditional dances and games. They also serve traditional meals and drinks, such as chicha.

The festival culminates in a large ox-cart parade Sunday, Jan. 16, that makes its way up to a large iron cross in the hills surrounding the city. People from surrounding areas are encouraged to join in the parade and to honor Alajuelita’s patron saint.

The town is south and west of San José

This year's festival will run through Sunday, Jan. 23. For more information, call 254-3879.

Amphibious Mother of all Crocodiles

New tour will show
visitors Tarcoles crocs

By Clair-Marie Robertson 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

A new Crocodile tour that will run tourists down the Rio Grande de Tarcoles will begin Jan. 29. It is a tour with a difference because of an amphibious vehicle that will be used to bring visitors to the places that the crocodiles inhabit along the banks of the river. 

The operator is Sheldon Haseltine, who said he brought his 38-seat amphibious vehicle from England. He said it is the only one in Costa Rica.  The vehicle has an interesting history. It was built by NATO for operations in the European theater during the height of the Cold War. The vehicle was an integral part of NATO's front line strategy. 

When registering the amphibious vehicle in Costa Rica Haseltine had to provide a name. "We decided to call it Madre Crocodilo, which means the mother of all crocodiles," said Haseltine. 

Haseltine was inspired by a tour he took along the Rio Tarcoles when he was planning his project. There the tour guide gets out of a vehicle and causes a crocodile to jump. The tour guide comes very close to the large crocodile but is not harmed.

The Rio Tarcoles is known for its crocodiles. It is along this river that tourists see crocodiles basking on the banks from a bridge just north of Jacó. 

Crocodile Safari tours will operate on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. on the hour, said Haseltine.

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Canadian Tennis star among winners at Copa Del Café
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Copa Del Café tennis tournament finished amid a rainy Saturday afternoon. The tournament, which celebrated its 49th anniversary, was held at the Costa Rica Country Club in Escazú.

The day opened with the girls’ doubles final, pairing Yung Jan Chan from Taipei and Aleksandra Wozniak from Blainville, Quebec, against Mihaela Buzarnescu from Romania and Bibiane Schoofs from the Netherlands. Wozniak and Chan kept the first set close, but floundered in the second set losing to Buzarnescu and Schoofs in two sets, 6-4, 6-0.

The 14-year-old category showcased the future of tennis later in the afternoon. Andreina Mesalles of Costa Rica and Paulina Schippers from Guatemala lost to Camila Quesada of Costa Rica and Elizabeth Tapia of Panama, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Following that match, 14-year-old Paplo Nuñez of Costa Rica defeated Santiago Centeno from Guatemala, 6-2, 6-2.

After an hour-long rain delay, the tournament got back under way with the girls’ final. Miss Wozniak took to the court fresh from her loss earlier in the day in girls’ doubles. The Canadian faced Irena Pavlovic from France. Miss Wozniak took the first set handily, 6-3, but faced a stiffer task in the second set as Pavlovicic forced a tie breaker just before a rain delay postponed the end of their match. An hour later, the two took to the court again. Wozniak weathered Pavlovic’s second wind in the beginning of the tiebreaker and moved on to win the second set 7-6.

The boys’ final started soon after as Juan Martin Del Porto from Argentina faced off against Robin Haase of the Netherlands. Haase took the first set 6-3, but stumbled in the second, losing 3-6 as Del Porto evened the score. Heading into the final set, Haase and Del 

A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak, 17,  signs autographs after winning the girls’ final.
Porto played even through the first few games, but Haase eventually pulled away, winning 6-3. 

At the end of the boys final, however, rain began to fall again and the trophy presentations were postponed until Sunday morning. Despite the delays, however, the tournament was a success with a large crowd for the finals. 

Nicaragua power struggle may invite foreign troops
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A constitutional crisis is rapidly building in Nicaragua as opposing political forces are creating pressure on this young democracy.

The situation is so bad that President Enrique Bolaños says he may bring in foreign troops from the Organization of American States to support democracy.

Bolaños is in the political minority. Sunday morning Rene Nuñez of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional was elected president of the Nicaraguan national assembly. The vote count was 83 votes in favor and only 7 in opposition to the candidacy. The dissenting votes came from the few deputies still loyal to Bolaños.

Live television coverage of the event reflected the curious sight of the former Contra leader and next president of the national defense commission, Fernando Avellan, praising the candidacy of Nuñez. 

Nuñez is a militant Sandinista and close confidant of party leader Daniel Ortega. While the vote was going on party members of the right wing Partido Liberal Constitutionalista and left wing Sandinistas exchanged party flags in a demonstration of support outside of the Assembly building located in central Managua. The remainder of the Junta Directiva was elected in similar fashion with members of the two parties dividing the seven member Junta with a 4-3 majority for the Liberals.

The critical position of Assembly first secretary was placed in the hands of a family member of the imprisoned former president, Arnoldo Aleman, to assure duality in the new power sharing arrangement.

During the past week the executive branch of the Nicaraguan government and, in particular, President Bolaños were directly challenged by a coalition of the Sandinista led by Ortega and the Liberals led by Aleman. 

Aleman and Ortega are former presidents of Nicaragua and undisputed leaders of their respective parties. The two political parties control 90 percent of the membership of the National Assembly of Nicaragua and jointly received 92 percent of the nation’s votes during the recent municipal elections. 

The challenge consists of a series of announcements and legislative appointments which outline a broad agreement for governmental and constitutional reform in Nicaragua. The fundamental change is the weakening of the presidency of Bolaños and the institution of a parliamentary democracy. 

Bolaños in essence is fighting for his political life as well as his personal freedom as he has been implicated in a campaign finance scandal that is under judicial investigation.

In an extraordinary reaction to the reforms proposed by the new majority, Bolaños responded by the filing of a series of lawsuits seeking injunctions against the legislative branch in the Nicaraguan and Central American court systems. Bolaños has also orchestrated a diplomatic assault on the character and legitimacy of the membership of the national assembly. 

The Nicaraguan Supreme Court has unanimously rejected or delayed ruling in all of the actions for injunctive relief filed by the President and his cabinet members. The Nicaraguan court system is controlled by members of the two majority parties but, in particular, is dominated by members of the Frente Sandinista. 

The Nicaraguan Supreme Court is divided equally between members of the FSLN and the PLC. Bolaños has also filed a similar lawsuit seeking a restraining order against the Nicaraguan National Assembly in the Central American Court of Justice, a regional judicial body which contains members from four of the six Central American countries. This claim has met a better fate, resulting in the equivalent of a temporary restraining order against the assembly directing the delay of any further reforms pending a full hearing on the merits. 

The legitimacy of this order is subject to two serious challenges. The first is the extent of jurisdiction of the regional court to decide a Nicaraguan constitutional matter. The second is the validity of the membership of the judges on the court. All of the members of the court who issued the order had their terms expire last October and are operating the court without current legislative approval.

Notwithstanding the legal problems of the Central American Court of Justice order, Bolaños has seized upon the finding as a tool to intensify diplomatic efforts and initiate negotiations with the head of the Nicaraguan Army asking to use armed force to disband the other two branches of the government. Direct military support by the army is unlikely as they have publicly stated that they would not intervene in "political matters" 

Bolaños met with high ranking members of the army and police force seeking support in a declaration of a state of National Emergency. Informed sources from both the liberal and Sandinista party stated that the appeal was rejected by military and police forces due to the lack of a rupture of constitutional order.

Bolaños also made a direct appeal to the Organization of American States for protection against the potential reforms. The OAS has the authority to employ coercive measures up to and including the introduction of armed troops to avoid a breach of constitutional order. Bolaños enjoys a large reserve of political capital in the OAS and with the U.S. government which dominates the body. 

The U.S. Embassy in Managua and the State Department has remained publicly quiet but has been working hard behind the scenes seeking to shore up support for Bolaños among other members of the international community and pressuring Liberal party members of the national assembly to accede to the Bolaños line. 

Amongst the pressure tactics allegedly employed are threats to revoke visas to visit the United States as well as the threat to initiate criminal money laundering proceedings against Aleman and his family members in the United States federal court system under the auspices of the Patriot Act and other provisions of federal law. 

Aleman has allegedly been under investigation in the Southern District of Florida by a special anti-corruption task force of the Justice Department and U.S. Customs. Aleman was convicted of money laundering in early 2004 in Nicaragua and is serving a 20-year sentence in his farmhouse-jailhouse "Hacienda El Chile."

Saturday morning a local Managua newspaper, EL Nuevo Diario, printed a joint communiqué signed by Aleman and Ortega rejecting the validity of any armed intervention and implicitly threatened the removal of Bolaños if he failed to recognize the authority of the national assembly to amend the constitution. 

In response to the communiqué, Bolaños in a surprise weekend press conference defiantly challenged the members of the assembly and declared the communiqué a "disgrace to the majesty of the national assembly" He also directly stated that the intervention of the OAS in his judgement would not consist of a derogation of Nicaraguan sovereignty due to the authorizing treaty and the aid supplied by the member states to the Nicaraguan government. 

Later in the day after meeting with high ranking members of the Catholic Church, Ortega stated that "If Bolaños continues with a plan of foreign intervention of Nicaraguan sovereignty he will be removed by the National Assembly and be replaced by Vice President Jose Rizo Castellon". 

Rizo who has repeatedly threatened resignation from the Bolaños government held a secret meeting on Thursday night with Ortega and later on Friday with Aleman allegedly seeking their joint support in the event Bolaños is impeached and removed from office. 

Monday morning the President is required by law to address the Assembly and present his report on the state of the Republic and his legislative plans for the upcoming year. The tension is such that it is widely predicted that he will not appear or that a direct confrontation will occur during or after the speech.

Supporters of Bolaños have obtained a demonstration permit for a rally outside of the assembly during his scheduled annual report to the deputies. This report, mandated by law is the functional equivalent of the State of the Nation address given annually by the sitting U.S. president. 

There is no confirmation to this moment of the attendance of the Nicaraguan president at the legislative session and counter marches have been discussed by members of the two majority parties. High security is planned for the event as the entire diplomatic corps is invited as well as the members of the Supreme Court and judges.

Jo Stuart
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