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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 7             E-mail us    
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Personal credit costs vary widely, ministry finds
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A resident who borrows 1 million colons from a lending institution can pay as little as 21.21 percent effective annual interest if they deal with Banco de Costa Rica. But if they get their loan at Corporación Financiera Miravalles, the effective annual interest rate will be a whopping 60.10 percent.

The cost of credit is the result of a study during December by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio.

The ministry surveyed 14 of the nation's biggest lenders and discovered a wide range of policies and interest rates on personal credit. The lenders were compared on the cost of a 1 million colon loan for three years. That about $1,925.

At the Banco de Costa Rica, the borrower would pay 37,291.09 colons a month and end up paying a total of 1,342,479.24 back to the bank.

At the more expensive end of the scale, a Miravalles customer would pay 51,431.50 colons a month for a total repayment of 1,851,534.10 colons over three years.

The effective interest rate is slightly different than the stated interest rate because some banks charge commissions up front. For example, ScotiaBank said it levied a $250 commission. The Miravallas interest rate is high because the firm levies a 15 percent commission that the ministry figured into the interest rate.

Banco Banex was listed as the second most expensive borrowing option with an effective interest rate of 52.21.

Scotia was the third most expensive option, the ministry said, setting its effective interest rate at 40.11 percent.

At the least expensive end of the scale after Banco
The cost of a ¢1 million personal loan
Lender
Rate
%
Cost of credit
over three years
Miravallas
60.10
¢851,534.00
Banex
52.21
¢557,983.50
ScotiaBank
40.11
¢508,605.92
Cuscatlan
29.48
¢464,883.56
Banco de C.R.
21.21
¢342,479.24


de Costa Rica were Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago (23.42 percent) and Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (24.09 percent). Colon interest rates have to take into account the 8 to 14 percent annual devaluation of the currency.

Banco Cuscatlan, another institution favored by expats, was in the middle of the list with an effective interest rate of 29.48 percent.

The study is far from comprehensive. Banco BC San José, Banco BCT and Citibank of Costa Rica said they did not offer personal credit. Banco Interfin, Banco Uno, Banco Cathy and Banco Promerica did not respond, the ministry said.

All but one of the 14 institutions allowed prepayment of loans without penalty, said the survey. Some banks said they could give a decision on a loan request in a few minutes. Others said they needed days.

Additional charges include mandatory life insurance, money deposited in a savings account and fees to become a member of some of the cooperative lenders.

The full study is available on the ministry Web site in Spanish. But even non-Spanish speakers will be able to understand the diagrams.

The ministry periodically conducts surveys related to consumer costs.


Defensoria wants property owners to build the needed sidewalks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The lack of safe and proper pedestrian walkways has been blamed for the death of a Costa Rican girl.  The child was walking along a street in Santa Ana that doesn't have a sidewalk when she was killed by a delivery truck Monday, officials said. 

A report from the Defensoria de los Habitantes, the nation's ombudsman, said that many Costa Ricans have spoken out against the deterioration and lack of proper sidewalks in their communties.

The Defensoria said that Costa Rican construction law includes in its first article the responsibilty of the municipality to provide for the security,
maintenance, comfort and beauty of public walkways.  The Defensoria added that this is an often neglected regulation.

Article 75 of the Código Municipal, however, outlines that it is the responsability of a business or home owner to build sidewalks the lengths of the property, so long as the municipality fulfills its obligation to provide area measurements to the appropriate person.  Those who fail to comply to this regulation can be subject to fines. 

The Defensoria de los Habitantes said that in the interest and security of the people of Costa Rica that the municipal government begin to enforce Article 75, said a press statement.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 7

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Arias to visit Nicaragua
for Ortega inauguration


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will be making a one-day trip to Nicaragua today to be honored and to witness the transfer of power to president-elect Daniel Ortega Savaadre.

Arias will fly from Costa Rica on a private jet in the company of President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. Also with Arias will be his brother, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia. Also traveling will be Fernando Berrocal, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, and Bruno Stagno, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Arias is expected to land at Managua's Aeropuerto Internacional Augusto César Sandino about 11 a.m.. just in time for a luncheon hosted by Enrique Bolaños, the outgoing president, and his wife, Lila Abaunza de Bolaños.

At 3 p.m. he will be present for the transfer of power and will receive from Ortega the Unidad Latinoamericana Nicaragua Libre medal, said Casa Presidencial. He is expected to return by 6 p.m.

Ortega was president of war-torn Nicaragua when Arias helped craft the Central American peace plan that won him the Nobel Prize.

Even more changes made
in cost of petroleum products


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agency that regulates commodity prices has approved a cut in the price of gasoline, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel. This comes on the same day that increases went into effect.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, said the reduction was a result of changes in the world price of oil that is handled here by the government's  Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo.

Regular gasoline will go from 460 colons to 447 colons a liter, a cut of 13 colons. Super also goes down 13 colons from 488 to 475. A dollar is about 519 colons. Diesel goes from 364 to 349, a cut of 15 colons.

The cuts come on the heels of a 28-colon cut in super gasoline and a 26-colon cut in regular that took effect Tuesday. Diesel went up 17 colons to 364. These changes took place because the regulating agency eliminated subsidies that had kept diesel prices lower.

When the new cuts go into effect after being published in the La Gaceta official newspaper, the net reduction in gasoline will be 41 colons for super and 39 for regular. Diesel will only have gone up 2 colons, and aviation jet fuel 29 colons.

Although motorists will enjoy the cuts, the highway construction programs will win big because of the petroleum content in asphalt.

U.N. development chief
is visiting Central America


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

To learn first-hand of the obstacles to development facing Central America, the head of the United Nations Development Programme is on a 10-day tour of the region that includes Costa Rica.

He is Kemal Dervis, the administrator of the agency. “. . .  this trip offers an excellent chance to better understand the region’s wide range of challenge — and the innovative ways in which these countries are meeting them,” he said.

His itinerary includes meetings with representatives of national and municipal governments, civil society, academia, the private sector and the media.

“Learning from the experience of others is crucial in our work,” added Dervis, who also is visiting Cuba, Honduras and Guatemala on his trip.

Dervis’ schedule in Cuba includes a visit to a center for hurricane preparedness and risk reduction. In 2005, Cuba was struck by Hurricane Dennis and approximately 8 million out the country’s total population of 11.1 million were affected.

In Guatemala, Dervis plans to meet with Rigoberta Menchú, 2002 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Immigration now restricts
data on entries and exits


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration authorities have restricted access to information about when individuals arrive and leave the country.

In the past this information was available, sometimes for a small fee, at the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

An e-mail from immigration officials said that the new immigration law restricts access to this information and limits disclosure to the individual involved, someone who is authorized by that individual, judicial and administrative authorities and lawyers.

Church object was pawned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The gold-washed monstrance stolen from the Basilica de los Ángeles Saturday has been returned by a pawn shop owner who has not been identified. The man said someone hocked the religious vessel the same day it was stolen.

A thief took the object from the sanctuary of the basilica about 9 a.m. The vessel is used to display the consecrated host during Roman Catholic benedictions and other services. It also is carried in processions.

The theft allowed the Spanish papers to editorialize. El Diario Extra called the man who took it a pig thief.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 7  






Endangered festival in Palmares begins today for 12-day run
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After much controversy, the classic Fiestas Palmares is set to begin today with a festival of lights at 6 p.m.  

The town west of San Jose will play host to thousands of visitors participating in various events during the next 12 days.  Some of the attractions include bull fights, live music, soccer tournaments, carnivals, rodeos and more.

Because of the cancellation of the Zapote festival just before Christmas, attendance at Fiesta Palmares could be much higher than usual.

One of the main events at this year's festival is Mexican singer Pedro Fernández who will perform this Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.  Some of his better known songs include "Si tú supieras", "Mi forma de sentir" and "La mujer que amas."

Other musical groups include Héctor El Father, a reggaeton group from Puerto Rico, which is performing
 Sunday at noon, as well as Frente Frío and Hombres “G” which are performing Jan. 21.

Some of the more traditional events include the tope, which is a horse parade through the fiesta grounds and is taking place Thursday at noon, the kids festival at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and the grand carnival that begins at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19.

There are generally two to three shows per day and a full listing is available on a Web site at http://fiestaspalmares.net/es/index

The festival almost got shut down because of a conflict between the local development organization that runs the event and the local mayor. However, by Monday the event had the required permits.
 
Typically Tránsito officers mount a series of roadblocks on the route back to San José to check for intoxicated drivers.

Beer tents are a big draw at the fiesta. But traffic officers are heavily reinforced for the event.


Our readers comment on infrastructure and $15 head tax
He's still coming here
to retire in a few years

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In 2005 I spent three great weeks in Costa Rica.  I had arranged my trip very loosely so that I could be more spontaneous in my choices.  The primary goal of this trip was to relax and see the country with an eye to a possible retirement in a year or two.
 
I did not rent a car.  I had arranged transport from the airport to a small hotel in Barrio Amón near the Hospital Calderón Guardia before I left the States.  I walked around San José or took taxis.  I went to Puerto Viejo by bus.  I spent four days in Quepos and a week in Golfito.  I stayed at a surfer camp in Uvita for five days.  I rode horseback, took buses everywhere, saw all the museums, and generally had a loose, unstructured, damn good time.
 
Here’s the kicker.  I never felt in danger. I was not mugged. I did not feel ripped off.  I ate well. I met Ticos and Ticas, lazed around beaches, stayed in modest but acceptable accommodation in generally great circumstances.  So I wonder about all the constant chatter about the country going to the dogs.
 
I am going through the final one to two years of my work life.  I still consider Costa Rica the final destination, and I hope to be able to be of some use to this delightful place in my retirement.  I will not be scared off by the doomsayers and the fear mongers.  It seems to me that if you take care of yourself and watch out, just as you would in Topeka or St Louis, New York or Orlando, Denver or Redding Calif., you will get along just fine.
 
I’ll be back in-country in April or May this year.  See you at Manuel’s on the Paseo.
 
Don M. Carleton
Fort Bragg, California


 
Complainers forget they
pay little for services

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This is the time of the year when the whining and complaining about life here in Costa Rica begins. Typically it includes the state of the roads, the inefficiency (and perhaps even the corruption) of the bureaucracy, the complaint of “things just don’t work the same as they do in the States!,”  the escalation of petty theft and even sometimes violent crimes, the seemingly endless lines at institutions, and of course, the poor state of the utilities (particularly the lack of high-speed internet everywhere) in the country . . . and on and on.
  
Well, let’s look at reality. Canada and the States have a horrific tax burden to cover the above “complaints.”   Those who live in Costa Rica, either part-time or full-time, pay almost nothing for the above services.
  
Complainers and whiners, can you really expect to get something for nothing? (Actually, you can because many retirees in Costa Rica pay virtually nothing for their world class medical treatment.)   Literally thousands and thousands of dollars are allocated to alleviate the above complaints “back home.”   Residents and visitors pay almost nothing in Costa Rica.  And yet, we complain the loudest.
  
Next time you whine or complain (and remember, too, that your complaints are also duplicated by people who live and were born here) remember what you are paying for these services. And remember what the country’s “motto” is: pura vida. And try to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
  
Randy Berg
Grecia



Don't fret about ICT
because they will be OK

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am dismayed with the administration’s proposal to charge a $15 head tax for arrivals at the nation’s airports. The  poor little lambs will be fleeced before the common criminal element and street urchins have their turn.

However, the Tourism Institute will put the funds to good use. Their office suites will be tastefully appointed. The secretaries will be gorgeous. There will be employment oppurtunities for family members.

Please, do not worry about their patronage at the next  World Cup event. They will be there.

C.  Lankford
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida


ICT needs to have plan

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
  
Let me start by saying that when I arrived in Costa Rica and immediately applied for the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo contract for my tourism business, a kind inspector from ICT told me that it should cost about $2,000 dollars and take no more than six months to get the contract.

He mentioned that any lawyer who wanted to charge me more was just taking advantage. Five and a half years and $20,000 later, I was granted the contract.

When I went to accept and sign it, I mentioned that I surely hoped that I was the worst case analysis. The woman who signed the contract with me, from the ICT, didn’t make any comments, implying that I was not even close. At one point the contract had been approved and finished, it sat for two and a half years on a desk in ICT because no one there wanted to finish the process. Repeated phone calls to determine what happened with the contract were never returned, and when someone else was put in charge of my account, they found the contract, The process had to be restarted.
  
So, while I have no objection to the $15 proposed tax and do feel that it would probably be easier to administer, I think ICT has some explaining to do. They need to have a plan, and it needs to be a good one.
  
The biggest problem with ICT is that they are not concerning themselves with the quality of the product that they are supposed to be marketing. Why ICT does not assist in negotiations with the government to improve roads, bridges, water supplies and other infrastructure problems is a mystery to me. Most tourism operators know that it is the quality of their product that will sustain them in a competitive market. ICT seems little concerned with that.
  
If their charter is tourism then they better get on the bandwagon to help improve the product. Because the product is not just the hotel and the tours that one takes, it is bigger than that. The “product” is the country itself, which needs an infrastructure that supports the residents as well as the tourists that come to visit and that is where our problems lie.

The country is full of lovely hotels, wonderful tours, friendly people and beautiful parks, forests and beaches. What it needs today to help with marketing efforts is a major overhaul of the infrastructure.
  
I am sure it is asking too much for ICT to put the horse before the cart, but it would sure he helpful for the hundreds of millions of colones and dollars invested in tourism here in the country if they would at least consider the possibility that the product needs some improvements if it is to compete with the entire world.
  
Did I mention that after all the travails of getting the ICT contract, they revoked all the benefits? The tax and import benefits for the ICT contract were revoked within months after I received the contract. The sad truth was after all that effort and money, the only benefit was a liquor license.

Thankfully for me I had never had a chance to use the tax or import benefits, because they not only revoked them, they decided to retroactively ask people who had enjoyed said benefits to pay back the money from the benefits they had received. I believe that this is still being haggled out in courtrooms here in Costa Rica.
  
If ICT wants to have a big budget for promotions, that is ok with me. However, if they have a big budget, I would rather see it committed to some impovements in infrastructure first and marketing second. After all, the tourism operators in the country have their own budgets for marketing which are far greater than the sum total of whatever the ICT spends. The marketing efforts of private industry have been the sustaining funds that generate tourism here. The ICT funds are a drop in the bucket. Let them earn their budget by doing us all a favor and getting involved solving the infrastructure problems that exist in the country. Today.
  
This country is so beautiful that it can sell itself, but it needs attention to infrastructure in order to maintain a ranking among the most desireable tourist destinations. The $15 idea sounds good to me, but let’s hear their plan first!
  
Robbie Felix
Manuel Antonio/Quepos

Don't kill the goose

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Instead of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, many tourist destinations tax the goose to death. The proposed arrival tax is just one example. Everyone knows tourism is one of Costa Rica’s biggest sources of revenue. Tourists should not be considered as an inexhaustible perpetual  source of revenue with no recourse other than to pay and pay.

They come to Costa Rica to enjoy themselves. They resent being “nickled and dimed” to death. They don’t return. They tell their friends.  Coupled with the rash of violence reported almost daily, Costa Rica could well lose it luster as a place to visit. Read the papers. The signs are there.

Hal G Nielsen


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 7 







Insulza says he will not respond to name-calling by Chávez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of the Organization of American States, José Insulza, says he will not respond to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who called for Insulza's resignation Monday.

Insulza said Tuesday he will not exchange insults with anyone, especially chiefs of state of member nations.

Chávez used a vulgar Spanish term, pendejo, for Insulza and called for his resignation during a speech in Venezuela.

Insulza earlier had expressed concern about a decision by the Venezuelan government not to renew the broadcasting
 license of a television channel that has criticized Chávez policies. Insulza said the move could be regarded as censorship of freedom of expression.

In the same speech Monday, Chávez announced plans to nationalize electric power generators and the country's largest telecommunications company, CANTV. He also asked the national assembly to grant him sweeping powers so that he can transform the country into a socialist nation as he has promised.

Critics say he is steering the country toward a Cuban-style one-party dictatorship. Chávez will be sworn in Wednesday to a second six-year term as president of Venezuela.


Washington unimpressed by Venezuela's bent to socialism
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department Tuesday expressed skepticism about the industrial nationalization plans of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship with the populist Venezuelan leader.

Decisions about Venezuela's economic future are for the people of that country to make, said the State Department spokesman. But they say nationalizations of key industries like those announced by Chávez have traditionally not provided the economic benefits promised by their promoters, he added.

The comments followed word from Chávez Monday that he plans to nationalize the country's telecommunications and electric power industries, in which investors from the United States and other countries have major interests.

The left-leaning Venezuelan leader revealed the plan as he swore in a new cabinet in Caracas in advance of his own inauguration for a new term in office on Wednesday, declaring that Venezuela is heading toward socialism and that no one can prevent it.

The action prompted criticism from the country's business community and sharp drops in the Venezuelan stock market
and in the value its currency, the bolivar. In a talk with
reporters, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Chávez has been elected to act on behalf of his country's people but suggested the course he has embarked upon may not benefit them:

"The proposals that he's made concerning nationalization are a well-worn path that history has shown doesn't usually benefit the population of the country in question. But those are again, Venezuela's decisions to make," he said. "At this point, if there is a follow through on nationalization, there is an accepted international practice in foreign companies being compensated at fair market value for the assets that are nationalized."

McCormack said the United States would expect that Venezuela will follow through on all of its contractual obligations with regard to assets being taken over by the government.

The Bush administration has had a stormy relationship with Chávez, a close friend of Cuba's ailing President Fidel Castro, who won a third term in office in a landslide election victory last month.

Chávez delivered a bitter personal attack on President George Bush in a U.N. General Assembly speech.


Apple's CEO unveils mobile phone based on the iPod music player concept
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The computer maker Apple has unveiled an eagerly anticipated mobile phone based on its best-selling iPod music player.

In California Tuesday, Steve Jobs, Apple chief executive officer, said the company's new iPhone will revolutionize the telecommunications sector.

The 1.2 centimeter (half-inch) thick phone has a
9-centimeter (3.5-inch) touch screen display with a camera. It can access the Internet and will allow users to store movies, music, photos and contact information.

The company also introduced AppleTV, a converter box that allows users to send movies, television shows, music and photos to their television sets wirelessly from a computer.

Apple's share price spiked by nearly 5 percent to around $89 per share following the announcement.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 7


Saprissa will play a weekend game against Veracruz team
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saprissa, the current national fútbol champion, heads to Mexico this weekend to play the first match in the 2007 Clausura tournament.

The Costa Rican team, also known as Monstruo morado (“the purple monster”) will face Tiburones Rojos of Veracruz, Mexico, Sunday night.  The team should arrive
in Mexico at around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the trainers have scheduled a practice session two hours later in order to prepare for the big game.

Mexican teams are generally considered to be stronger than Costa Rican teams, but Saprissa has been strong in the last few years, and its Web site said that they are looking for international games that will provide the highest level of competition.


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