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(506) 223-1327         Published Monday, Jan. 14, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 9             E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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beach house before
A.M. Costa Rica/Garland M. Baker
Comfortable beach house before the municipality issued its destruction edict
From dream home to kindling: Hint of things to come
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

If they have property in the maritime zone, expats can look forward to a hard time this year from municipalities up and down the coasts.  If that is not enough stress for 2008, the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía will be in line to add more tension.   Some expats may be losing their comfy beach houses if they are located in the wrong places.

Municipalities over the past couple of years have awakened.  They are now in a fret and furor trying to make up for lost ground.  The first attack is tearing down structures within the 50 meters zone. This has gone on now for a couple of years. A visit to Guanacaste over Christmas shows the momentum increasing. The first 50 meters on the coast is the public zone. All the people of Costa Rica have rights to this land, but for years some have built or encroached on this zone.  The Costa Rican government has complete sovereignty to protect the area for the people.  Municipalities do the policing.

In some cases, targets include certain high profile Costa Rican landmarks owned by Costa Ricans, like the Mar y Sombra restaurant in Quepos.  In other areas of the country, expats are first on the destruction list.

One hotel owner in Paquera received notice in August to tear down a 50-year-old house.   He loved this beach house and that is where he stayed when visiting the country, not in his hotel.  His argument that the house existed way before the maritime law became effective fell on deaf ears. 

The owner received official papers stating if he did not tear down the house, he and his legal representative would face criminal court action.

What made him mad is not that he had to tear down the structure. He said he respects the country’s laws and wants to contribute to its development.   He is mad because his Tico neighbors with houses on the adjacent beach did not get the same legal notice.

More maddening is that as he began tearing down his beloved house, the inspectors came back and added other structures to the list.  Now it looks like the municipality is going to pour salt into his wounds by increasing his taxes this year.

This poor expat has his personal troubles with his municipality. However, he is lucky, others have much bigger problems.

Most concessions in the maritime zone need to be renewed every 20 years.  This means updating all the paperwork and resubmitting it for approval.  Those doing so are finding the rules of the game different.  The rule of thumb in Costa Rica is when things work well, change them to return to havoc.

It is the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía’s job to determine what areas from 50 meters to 200 meters
beach house after
A.M. Costa Rica/Garland M. Baker
Beach house is on its way down!

above mean high tide can and cannot be transformed into a concession in the maritime zone.  This department of the government did not do its job for many years in protecting environmentally sensitive spots.  The pendulum has swung from doing little to overkill.

In one concession in Guanacaste up for renewal, the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía says there is not one concession but four and that many condominiums there are built on land that is protected because of environmental concerns.  The concession holder is in a quandary. He does not know what to do.  Costa Rica law states a Costa Rican can only own one concession at a time.  Will the concession holder lose the other concessions?  Will he need to tear down existing structures to adhere to the law?

Now the biggest scare of all for 2008.  Costa Rica wants its cut on maritime property over and above the measly pittance it receives in taxes   The country has figured out concessions are sold for mega
millions of dollars to international trend setters and the country gets zip on the sales.  The legislature is discussing this fact, trying to come up with ideas to get a piece of the mega bucks.

In 2008, municipalities will tear down more and more structures close to the beach, including homes and businesses.  The Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía will rigorously apply rules with a vengeance to make up for lost time when officials were not doing their job, making new concession applications and renewals wearisome. These events promise a frustrating year for expats and developers living or investing  in the maritime zone.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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Immigration extends period
for some expiring residencies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The immigration department has authorized another year of grace for foreigners whose residencies expire in the first four months of 2008.

This is the third automatic renewal in as many years.

However, the current extension was done by means of an internal memo and not by presidential decree.

The two previous extensions, Dec. 20, 2006, and July 1, 2007, came from Casa Presidencial and were published in the La Gaceta official newspaper. They have the strength of laws.

According to the memo from Mario Zamora Cordero, the director general of Migración y Extranjería, all foreigners who have forms of residency that expire in the first four months of the year are automatically renewed for one more year.

Immigration officials are expecting to get a computerized system in place within a few months to track foreigners and to issue cédula-like identification documents.

The automatic renewals have caused problems for foreigners. Some expats have complained that their identity papers with an expired date command little response from other branches of the Costa Rican government, particularly state banks. Some have taken to carrying a copy of the presidential decree.

An original copy of the memo issued Dec. 21 by Zamora might be hard to obtain.

Court case on Nicoya ferries

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera and Naviera Tambor will be in court Wednesday in a civil case to determine who has the right to run ferry service between Puntarenas and Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Naviera Tambor, owner of two modern ferries, has a concession won via a bidding process, but the locally owned association staged blockades at the Paquera dock and forced the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes to issue a special temporary permit for its ferry.

Naviera Tambor is challenging the temporary permit given its rival.

Our reader's opinion
Playa Hermosa developer
says water project is for all

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like to comment on the Jan. 9 article "Freeze on projects prompts developers to run water lines."

First, the local developers have been planning on adding additional water to the Playa Hermosa area LONG before any freeze was put on any projects.  As professionals, we recognize that the existing infrastructure was not capable of handling the demand that is currently on the system, much less the additional needs for the future.  These things have taken a long time to come to fruition.  The plan is moving forward.

The Hermosa Activist Group is wrong on many points.  Raymond Heck has no ownership interest whatsoever in Remax Los Tres Amigos, and Remax Los Tres Amigos owns no part of Canyon Ridge.

Furthermore, the planned upgrade to the Hermosa water system IS for the benefit of the entire community, not just the developers who will finance this system.  The sad fact is that the Hermosa Activist Group quotes laws that are convenient to them at the time.  The law reads that a homeowner has a right to water, and any homeowner along the system has a 100 percent legal right to connect to the system.  PERIOD.

I invite the Hermosa Activist Group (who hides behind its name and does not sign their personal names) to an open meeting to discuss what is BEST for ALL RESIDENTS of Hermosa.  I can be reached @ 372-8906 or, ANYTIME.
Raymond E. Heck
Playa Hermosa

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Heck also is responding to a letter that appeared Friday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday,  Jan. 14, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 9

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Quepos band concert
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Guitarist from Mexico City band Defecto entertains, but the crowd was sparse.
Despite a thin crowd, concert promoter promises to return
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The field was almost empty, the bartenders chatted by refrigerators of unsold beer, and only a few people got up the courage to dance in front of the stage, but the festival goers were adamant that it was the most interesting thing to happen to Quepos in months.

Originally billed as an international music event that would rocket Quepos to global recognition on the festival circuit, Costa Bazooka only drew around 650 people to the large field behind Rancho Alegre in Damas Saturday. Various bands billed to play did not appear and were replaced by lesser known groups.

The event was organized by American Bruce LaPierre in collaboration with Larry Sanchez, the manager of Hotel California, Manuel Antonio. Costa Bazooka started two hours late at 2 p.m. Due to a power cut. Some 18 bands hailing from Costa Rica, the United States and Mexico, performed.

People came and went during the 12 hours of rock music, and at any one time no more than 300 people stood to appreciate the music.

However, both bands and spectators remained enthusiastic about the show, even when the rain began at 8 p.m., and did not let up for the rest of the evening.

“We’re starving for some entertainment” said Steven Acerdo, who has lived in Manuel Antonio for two years building condos. “Nothing much happens in Quepos, and we always go to the same clubs, so it’s good to have something different.”

Advertising for the show came under fire as the main reason for the disappointing attendance, with locals saying they had only heard about it a week before the date of the concert.

“There was an event here three years ago, and we all heard about it three months in advance,” said the German owner of Taller de Idiomas in Quepos.  “The field was packed. This is still a beautiful thing though, Quepos is usually a cultural wasteland.”

Flyers in bars, advertisements on the television and radio, speakers mounted on cars, and word of mouth were the main methods of promotion. But it all came too late, mostly organized by the American promoters who came to Costa Rica a week before the concert and found hardly any advertising had been done by their Tico helpers.

Even people in nearby Jacó had not heard about the event, according to Acerdo.

The location was also criticized, as Damas is several kilometers outside Quepos across a bridge that drivers loathe.

“I’ve been stuck on the other side of that bridge for hours when it breaks as a truck goes over it, which happens very often,” said Bob McDaniel, owner of Oceans Unlimited Costa Rica Scuba Diving, who did not attend the concert. “I
won’t pick clients up from the other side of that, and taxi drivers will often only cross it for a high fee.”

“There would have been more people and it would have been better for Quepos businesses if they put it in the Quepos band stand in the middle of town,” added Jerry Glover, owner of Ultimate Adventure Tours in Quepos.
“There was an event there New Year’s Eve and the streets were packed.”

Alongside the expatriate residents were a number of young Tico rock fans setting up campfires along the edge of the field and a few vacationers who had seen the bands playing warm up gigs in local bars over the preceding few days.

“We were surprised to see a music festival happening here,” said vacationer Steve Ness, from North California. “I don’t know how much disposable income Ticos have for that kind of entertainment. There are some good bands. It’s a shame nobody came.”

Criticized about the idea from the start, LaPierre said he was disappointed about the lack of support the music festival had experienced from the local people, but added that he never expected to make a profit.

“The part we said would happen has happened,” said LaPierre. “They said it would be a miracle to get 500 people out here, and we’ve achieved that miracle.”

In total, LaPierre lost around $18,000 of his own money in hosting the show, with sponsorship by hotels, restaurants, the Costa Rican beer company and others donating services to a value of around $42,000 more.

He estimated takings at just over $3,000.

The Roberta Felix Foundation, which helps disabled children in rural areas, benefited from $1 of every $15 ticket sold, while the remainder went to LaPierre, to reimburse some of the capital he had put in.

The foundation sold 100 tickets and kept the $1,500 profit, and awareness was raised for the charity, with one band’s backer, Alex Grikitis, even donating $2,000.

LaPierre admitted that he made several mistakes in organization and promotion. Even though he made seven trips to Costa Rica prior to the show, the event suffered for his absence in the preceding weeks, he said.

The final act of the evening, billed to be a rave DJ from New York, was canceled as the attendance was too low to justify continuing the event until 5 a.m. LaPierre remained defiant, however, saying that he will try to do the same thing again.

“Manuel Antonio wants to be a world class resort, so it needs world class entertainment,” LaPierre said. “It just needs people to turn up. We managed to pull this off, and tomorrow people will be saying that they wish they came. Other huge festivals have started out making a loss and are now attended by thousands of people. We´ll do it again next year, and this time people will believe me that it will happen.”

Pedestrian brushed by tourist train as it passes through Barrio Cuba in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A train hit a man in Barrio Cuba Sunday night but the individual was only slightly injured.

The tourist train, Tren a la Tica, was on its way back from Puntarenas when the incident happened. After a four-hour journey, the train was less than 10 minutes away from its destination at the Estación al Pacifico in San José.

The man attempted to throw himself in front of the train,
 said a train spokesman. "He just hurt his knee, it was nothing," said the spokesman. A witness said he saw the man leaning over the tracks as if he was waiting for the train.

The man who was hit was sitting up talking with officials before an ambulance arrived.

A train official told passengers to close their windows as not to see the scene. Soon a group of onlookers started yelling, and the train pulled away again.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday,  Jan. 14, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 9

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caldera highway bridge
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
This is one of the lonely bridges that have been waiting for the San José-Caldera highway for more than six years. The bridges were finished in the Miguel Ángel Rodríguez presidency, but the roadbed only now had gotten the go ahead. The 77-km (48-mile), $230 million highway will decrease dramatically the travel time from
the Central Valley to the Pacific coast. The big job is a 39-km (24-mile) section from Ciudad Colón to Orotina that includes this bridge. That highway is only graded roughly now.  The final step is improvements of the highway from the Orotina interchange to the Puerto de Caldera at Puntarenas.

Chávez promoting idea of a negotiated peace with rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says he wants to resume peace efforts in Colombia following the release of two hostages held by leftist rebels. Chávez also called on Colombia to recognize the rebels as insurgents and not as a terrorist group.

One day after helping negotiate the release of former Colombian politicians Consuelo Gonzalez and Clara Rojas, the Venezuelan president said he is confident he can make further progress with leftist rebels.

Chávez said, with Colombia's approval, he would renew talks with leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.  The rebels have been waging a Communist insurgency for more than 40 years. He said negotiations with the leftist group is the only way to achieve peace.

Chávez also called on governments in the region and around the world to remove the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias and a smaller rebel group from lists of terrorist organizations.

He said the two groups are insurgent armies with political goals, which should be respected.

The United States government considers the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias a terrorist group and provides
millions of dollars in military and economic aid to Colombia's government to counter the rebels. The rebel group is a principal producer of illegal drugs that usually end up being shipped north.

In a statement, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias leaders said the release of the two hostages showed their willingness to negotiate with Colombia's government to free additional hostages, in exchange for the release of jailed rebels.

In August, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe asked Chavez to negotiate a deal with the rebels, but Uribe called off the Venezuelan leader's involvement last month because he said Chávez had improper contact with the Colombian army chief.

In a nationwide address Thursday, Uribe thanked Chávez and other international partners for their role in the hostage release. But he said he remains committed to tough security policies credited with sharply reducing the rebel threat.

He said Colombia has not yet won the battle against terrorism, but it will.

Uribe also read out some of the names of more than 700 hostages still in rebel hands, including three American military contractors. Many are being held in exchange for ransom money used to finance rebel activities.

Survey cites need for language teachers, especially of Arabic and Chinese
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

A new survey finds that job opportunities for foreign language instructors are increasing at U.S. colleges and universities, but finding qualified teachers, especially for languages like Arabic and Chinese, is proving difficult.

The report by the Modern Language Association finds a growing number of full-time foreign language teaching positions at U.S. colleges and universities. The group, which tracks language enrollments and works to strengthen the study of language and literature, says it expects a 4.3 percent increase in the number of positions over last year.

The organization's executive director, Rosemary Feal, said there are notable increases in job opportunities for Arabic and Chinese instructors, but filling these positions is another story. She says finding qualified teachers for these languages and others, like Urdu and Korean, is a challenge. "You've got this really rapid increase in demand and yet it takes quite a while to prepare to be a teacher, and you don't have the supply of teachers just waiting. In fact, in languages like Arabic, the number of Ph.D.s per year is below 20," she said.

Ms. Feal said there is a scramble to find high quality, well-prepared teachers for certain languages.
New York University's Catharine Stimpson says the issue of teaching languages is extremely important in today's globalized world. She is the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She said preparing good teachers means preparing good students, well ahead of graduate school.

"What one has to look at is the 'pipeline' into Ph.D. programs — look at what's happening in the high schools, then what's happening in the colleges, then what's happening in the graduate schools. We're conscious of the need to make sure the pipeline is flowing with people who love languages and want to teach them," she said.

Dean Stimpson and Ms. Feal both say the rise in job opportunities reflects the significance of learning other languages, even in an increasingly English-speaking world.

Ms. Feal says the advantage of knowing a foreign language speaks for itself. "The ability to communicate in English will be the big picture but all the micro-pictures are where we need the languages. We aren't going to get deep inside cultural knowledge or geo-political knowledge with an English-only approach," said Ms. Feal.

The Modern Language Association releases an analysis of the language job market every year before its annual convention.

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