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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 9          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Ministry study finds 311 different types
Credit card rates vary from 20% to 50.4%
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican financial jungle contains 311 different types of credit cards, and annual interest rates on accounts in colons range from a high of 50.4 percent to a low of 24.75.

A study by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio also found that annual interest on cards denominated in dollars ranged from a low of 20 percent to a high of  35.76 percent.

Some 30 different entities issue credit cards in Costa Rica, and Credomatic, the most well-known, issues 66 different types which carry different rates.  Bancrédito offers 40 types.

The ministry does the study periodically to help consumers better use their money.

 The ministry study also warned credit card users that a fee of from 3 to 5 percent is assessed when cash advances are made via automatic teller machines.

In addition, the mininstry said, 96 of the credit cards in the market carry a one-time issuance fee. These fees range from a low of 2,000 colons (about $4) for a local Visa at  CoopeSanRamón to 98,600 (nearly $200) for an American Express Platinum Centurión through Credomatic.

Some 156 cards carry an annual fee, which may be as low as 1,750 colons for a local Visa Clásica at Coopegrecia to 61,625 ($124) for an American Express Platinum Centurión at Credomatic, said the ministry.

The highest interest rate in colons, some 50.4 is assessed on four types of a Visa cards issued by Tarjetas BCT S.A.

The second highest at 49.92 percent is a local Máxima Visa issued by Medios de Pago

MP S.A. and a series of eight cards issued by Aval Card de Costa Rica.

Others were Medios de Pago MP S.A and its Máxima Visa Internacional at 49.42 percent, two types of Visa cards issued by Corp. Financiera Miravalles S.A.at 49.2 percent and a Visa card issued by Banca Promerica at 48 percent annual interest.

Colon-denominated credit cards with the lowest rate were three Visa cards issued by Banco de Costa Rica with an annual rate of 24.75 percent. Banco Nacional de Costa Rica was second lowest with two Visas and two Mastercards at 28.75 percent. The third lowest were two other local Visa cards issued by Banco de Costa Rica at 29.75 percent.

The highest rates determined for dollar-denominated cards included a Visa Máxima Internacional at 35.76 percent, nine cards offered by Aval Cards at 35.15 percent and four international credit cards issued by Tarjetas BCT S.A. at 33.60 percent.

Seven credit cards denominated in dollars issued by Banco Nacional and six issued by Banco Popular were listed as having a 20 percent annual interest rate. Three Visa cards issued by Bancrédito carry a 21 percent annual rate, and the Visa Dorada Internacional at Banco Improsa carries a 24.6 percent rate.

The ministry said it would be putting the full list of the credit cards studied and their rates on its Web page soon.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 9

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Our readers' opinions
He says system here
built wall at border

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There are talks, maybe even concrete plans to build a wall along Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the U.S. Some would argue that there are less expensive ways to control illegal entry into the States. I’m sure there might be, but that is not the issue raised by governments of Mexico or Guatemala, who quickly followed in the wake of Mexico’s protest.

Their fundamental protest was that the proposed wall would deny access to those desperate immigrants to make a living — apparently something these immigrants can’t do in their own country, otherwise they wouldn’t be risking their lives crossing treacherous deserts to do so. And such crossings aren’t cheap. The costs to make that attempt — arrival on the side not guaranteed — run up into thousands of dollars paid to coyotes, truck drivers and crooked border officials.

Wait a minute, let me get this straight. Mexico and other Latin American countries are protesting that the U.S. is trying to close off its southern border to illegal entry? Since when does a country not have the right to determine who is admitted? What happened to all that talk about national sovereignty that Latin American countries bring up when obliged to meet international commitments?

Wait another minute, these determined people are not religious or politically persecuted -where we the generous hand of freedom lovers might be extended, as with Cubans, or once with East Germans- they are escaping from poverty and associated misery caused by centuries of corruption and mismanagement in the own countries.

Still another minute, if these illegal immigrants are successful in getting into the U.S. — some 3 million were during 2005 — and finding work, what do they do with their hard earned, though less than minimum wage salaries? It doesn’t even stay in the U.S.; they send it back home! Remittances are one of the major sources of hard currency of most Central American countries.

I’m sorry, my dear friends from Latin America, your arguments don’t fly. Common sense and basic logic do not let up become down or left become right. If you want to protest something, protest how you have been victims of your own systems for as long as you and everyone else can remember. If you are the government, shame on you for even bringing up the issue.  Up with the wall or something better!
Walter Fila
Ciudad Colon

More on presidents
serving second term

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

With regard to your today’s story of why former president Dr. Oscar Arias can run again in spite of Article 132 of the Costa Rican Constitution saying he is not eligible, allow me to provide a context to that Article 132: term limits.

Under the standard concept of democracy, it is assumed that the choice of “people” should prevail. It is also assumed that if a president turns out to be a bad one, the wisdom of the voter will “kick the bum out.” If the president is good, the wisdom of voters will want him to continue in the job for as long as he, or she, is doing a good job. There is not a consensus, however, among democratic countries just how long a presidential period should be. In the U.S., as in Costa Rica and many others, that period is 4 years. Other countries have chosen 5 or 6 years. I suppose the difference is explained by the political fabric of each country.

As is common in many democratic countries, Term limits have come to be applied. The reason for Article 132 to form part of the Costa Rican Constitution was to avoid “caudillismo,” with all of its harmful overall effects, becoming entrenched in the country.  “Caudillo” is the Spanish name of a powerful political figure, who may or may not come to dominate the politics of the country, but nevertheless powerful. Two well known examples in Latin America are Juan Peron of Argentina and Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic. Although in his 80s and blind, it was his “caudillismo” that put Bosch back in the presidential seat in his last presidency.

You might be wondering how a corrupt caudillo can get reelected. It is because of the political structuring, meaning what are the mechanisms for the voter to express his political will and how many voters are feeding out of the political trough. In Costa Rica, those elected to congress to represent the voter in the daily task of legislating are not chosen by the “people.” They are chosen by a political party to appear on a slate. Because a “caudillo” almost invariably controls his party, he controls who becomes the party’s congressional candidates. So “cuadillismo” never goes away.

[paragraph deleted here for space reasons]

Perhaps in the days of old, when communication and knowledge were limited, it was considered essential that the voter to be protected from his ignorance by a law that says elected officials can not uninterruptedly continue in office.

For his reelection possibilities, Dr. Arias latched on to something more fundamental than stemming the spread of caudillismo. He said to the Sala IV: I’m a citizen, therefore I have a right to be elected president again and again, if the voters so wish.

With the obvious fact that the voter is less ignorant than before, and a basic right was in play, the magistrates of the Sala IV were hard-pressed to justify not letting Dr. Arias run again. And so it was. Let’s hope the electorate has gained enough wisdom to sift through all inane campaign propaganda and choose from the parties’ slates what is best for the country.

Robert Nahrgang S.
Professional Directory
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 9

Breadbasket of the world comes calling
Indiana visitors are concrete example for trade pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Indiana means business, and representatives of that state's agricultural community report they are finding receptive audiences in Costa Rican companies.

The trade delegation of some 22 firms and organizations is but a tiny ripple in what will become a flood when and if the free trade treaty with the United States is approved.

The visit also puts a spotlight on what is the real meaning of the free trade treaty. The interest by the U.S. food producers also points out deficiencies in the Costa Rican supply chain and outlines areas where the country is not competing now but perhaps could.

Steve Smith is director of agriculture with Red Gold, Inc. He was among the executives and company owners pitching U.S. products at the Intercontinental Hotel Wednesday. These are folks who do not get their names in newspapers often even though they distribute millions and billions of dollars in food each year.

Red Gold, a 65-year-old firm, has a very specific mission: "To produce the freshest, best tasting tomato products in the world." Smith said his firm sees a market in Costa Rica, particularly if the free trade treaty begins to reduce import tariffs on canned tomato products.

He said he was received with great interest here in Costa Rica, a country that does not have a tomato processing tradition. Although fresh tomatoes are available in the marketplace, canned tomatoes come from Italy or South America, he said. He's anxious to take on the Italian and South American canners in a level marketplace.

Russ Yearwood represented Indiana Packers Corp. of Delphi, Indiana. His company, 80 percent owned by Mitsubishi, has a problem. The new facility, built in 1991, can handle 12,000 pigs in a day with its 1,3500 employees. The pork meat products are then shipped vacuum packed all over the world.

But not to Costa Rica. Health rules here require that a meat packing plant be approved by a Costa Rican inspector even it it is in the middle of the American heartland. The country says it does not have the funds to send an inspector to Indiana. Yearwood also noted what he called restrictive tariffs in the neighborhood of 46 percent on pork products being shipped into Costa Rica. The company will try to comply with Tico health rules and looks forward to the free trade treaty reducing the import tariff, he said.

Yearwood said that several Costa Rican packers said it would be cheaper to purchase pork products from his firm than to slaughter pigs here, he added.

One of the purposes of the treaty is to eliminate artificial barriers to trade to allow each country to specialize in what it does best. Not many places can compete with the U.S. meat packing industry. The trade treaty, if passed, will force Costa Rica to recognize this fact.

Gary Reding represents the Indian Farm Bureau, Inc. This is an agricultural trade group, and he said he came to Costa Rica looking for markets for everyone. He also operates Langland Farm, which specializes in various types of seed. He has high hopes that his farm's organic popcorn will occupy a high-end position in the Costa Rican supermarket.

Meanwhile, in another room, Dan Burton, an Indiana congressman, was telling reporters that "all the countries will be on board and moving forwards by May or June." He is a proponent of the free

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U.S. Rep Dan Burton
Visiting congressmen sees
things to do on drugs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. Rep. Dan Burton is returning to Washington with some ideas of "things that need to be done" to increase the effectiveness of the war on drugs.

Burton, an Indiana Republican, is a member of the House Committee on International Relations and has studied the problem of illicit drugs extensively. Wednesday, he noted that he had met with Rogelio Ramos Martínez, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He also met with local representatives of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Burton said that Plan Colombia, a U.S. effort to help that country fight its drug-producing rebels, was one effort to stem the drug trade. Although he said he probably would not be sponsoring legislation, he added that there are some financial adjustments that can be made to improve the local effort against the drug trade. The United States has ships in both the Caribbean and the Pacific trying to halt smugglers.

Burton chaired a subcommittee that heard in November that Costa Rica is a major transit country for illegal drugs, mostly from Colombia.  He praised the Costa Rican effort in the fight against illegal drugs.

The main emphasis of Burton's visit was to encourage Costa Rica to ratify the pending free trade treaty with the United States.

trade treaty and spent his time in Costa Rica encouraging local politicians to support the pact. Costa Rica is the only country of the five signatories in Central American and the Caribbean that has not ratified the document. Burton said that a new legislature, which will be elected Feb. 5 and take office in early May, probably will approve the treaty.

The emphasis on trade was not all one-sided. This week Indiana agricultural experts were helping Costa Rican ornamental plant producers study ways to make plants healthier for shipment to North American markets.

The trade delegation also is promoting Indiana products in Guatemala and Panamá.

Fuerza Pública chief promises tight control at Palmares fiesta
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública is the latest law enforcement agency to announce an increase in patrols for the Palmares festival.  Some 400 officers are expected to guard the festivities which started Wednesday and will continue through Jan. 23. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a similar one by the transit police Tuesday that the agency was sending 120 officers to man checkpoints and minimize drunk driving. 

The 400 officers will be stationed in and around the entire canton in Alajuela, said Walter Navarro Romero, director general of the Fuerza Pública. 

The police chief added that, like last year, the agency will install cameras throughout the festival to help the
officers monitor the gathering.  The agency anticipates that the majority of the problems will be fist fights and lost children.

For the latter problem, the Fuerza Pública is working with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the national child welfare agency, Navarro said.

In addition, festival goers will not be allowed to bring heavy or sharp objects, firearms or illegal substances to Palmares.  Any such objects will be confiscated, Navarro said. 

Navarro added that the residents can file complaints or report disturbances to the Fuerza Pública 24 hours per day.  He also recommends that visitors guard their belongings, leave their expensive items at home and make sure that their vehicles are under the care of a guard when they enter the festival. 

A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 9

Toxic fungus blamed in Monteverde frog deaths
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One species of frog has been eliminated in an area of Costa Rica and more than one-hundred species of frogs in the region are facing reductions, according to a new study published in the journal Nature. Scientists say it appears higher temperatures have made a fungus toxic and that this is wiping out the frogs in a very short period of time.

Some 17 years ago, in Costa Rica's mountainous Monteverde Forest region, the tiny, brightly-colored red, black and yellow harlequin frog could be spotted everywhere on rocks along streams. The golden toad, another frog in the same family, was also abundant, according to Alan Pounds, an ecologist with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica.

"In 1987, there were maybe 1,500 golden toads observed at the principal known breeding site. But then the next year, only a single male appeared there. And in the same year, harlequin frogs, which were so abundant along some of the streams that you had to be careful not to step on them, went to being virtually absent. And then after that, we haven't seen them," he said.

Investigators say the cause of the extinction, and 67 percent reduction of the family of toads that includes the harlequin and golden frogs, was a .18 percent increase in temperature each decade since 1975.
Drawing on an extensive database produced by 75 researchers, scientists found a clear relationship between the number of frogs deaths and temperature increase, with the most amphibians disappearing in the warmest years.

During those years, Pounds say it appears a fungus, which normally lives harmlessly on the frogs' skin, became toxic and killed the amphibians. Under normal circumstances, the fungus is kept in check by the temperature extremes of the mountainous tropical forest regions. But milder temperatures, brought about by such factors as deforestation, have caused the deadly fungus to thrive, leading to the frogs' demise. "So the disease is the bullet killing frogs. The climate is pulling the triggers," he said.

As further proof that temperature is adversely affecting the frogs, Pounds says there are no extinctions of harlequin frogs in warmer lowlands.

Pounds says the study provides proof that global warming is creating disease where none existed and that should raise concern. "You can't keep changing ecosystems and expect our own life support system to be viable. So, you have to take notice and do something about it," he said.

Researchers believe similar extinction processes are under way in other parts of the world, and there are efforts to identify them and their causes.

Officials wonder if big wave swept the Pacific nearby
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency officials are mystified by a report of a big wave in the Pacific some 90 miles west of Parrita.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said a jet pilot radioed the traffic control tower at Juan Santamaría airport Wednesday to report something strange in the ocean.

By late afternoon the commission had eliminated the possibility of a tsunami spawned by an earthquake. Scientists quickly pointed out that no earthquakes had been reported and that tsunamis generally are
not very tall in deep water. They only reach a height as they near the coast. There also had not been any reports of big storms near enough to cause any kind of unusual wave.

Another possibility not mentioned by the commission is that of a rogue wave. A July 2004 news story discussed this phenomenon and said that scientists now think such events are more common than had been thought.

The commission asked the Dirección Nacional de Guardacostas to remain on alert for any kind of event and asked the seaside population to remain calm.

Court lifts immunity of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — An appeals court has stripped former dictator Augusto Pinochet of his legal immunity, clearing the way for him to be tried in connection with the deaths of two political prisoners.

Justices voted 17 to 6 Wednesday to remove the immunity Gen. Pinochet enjoys as a former president.
The 90-year-old can now be tried for his role in two murders committed by soldiers several weeks after Pinochet claimed power through a bloody coup.

Chilean judges also upheld a previous ruling allowing Pinochet to be released from house arrest if he posted bail, set at about $19,000.

Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.

Jo Stuart
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