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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 9        E-mail us
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More problems appear to be ahead for quake victims
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A flurry of earthquakes Monday night and Tuesday morning signaled the presence of yet another fault in the vicinity of the Volcán Poás, and residents of the area, already reeling from Thursday's 6.2 magnitude shock are nervous.

In addition, a small eruption has been reported in the volcano caldera.

Although local experts dismiss any connection between volcanic activity and earthquakes, a new Oxford University study says that very large earthquakes can trigger an increase in activity at nearby volcanoes. It is a statistical study based on geological history in southern Chile that shows up to four times as many volcanic eruptions occur during the year following very large earthquakes than in other years. This volcanic surge can affect volcanoes up to at least 500 kms. (310 miles) away from an earthquake’s epicenter.

The Poás volcano is just 10 kms. (6 miles) from Thursday's epicenter, which was 35 kms. or 22 miles northwest of San José.

Experts from the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica have downplayed any suggestion that the killer quake Thursday would spur activity in the volcano, although they reported a surge of gases at the time of the quake.

Meanwhile Tuesday rescue workers found three more bodies, bringing the death toll to 20. Two bodies were recovered in the community of Vara Blanca and one in Cinchona, near the estimated epicenter. Some 17 persons still are listed as missing. The body of Joselyn Jiménez Rodríguez was recovered in Cinchona. The bodies of Marco Jiménez Román and Carlos Villegas Mora were found in Vara Blanca.

Vara Blanca and Cinchona, on the east side of the Poás Volcano, were close to some of the earthquake activity Monday night and Tuesday morning. The strongest quake was  4.3 magnitude at 1:11 a.m. Tuesday. The flurry of quakes raised fears that a fault on the west side of the volcano near Bajos de Toro de Alajuela might produce another devastating shock. A flurry of quakes preceded Thursday's killer.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico reported that one of their experts, Jorge Brenes, a vulcanologist from England and two from New Zealand witnessed the eruption Tuesday. They were on the east side of the Poás crater.

The observatory said in a press release that the eruption was 50 meters in diameter (about 160 feet)  and about 15 meters (about 50 feet) high. The observatory said that the bubble of gas and water was interpreted as having been released by the recent seismic activity. The event took place at 2:11 p.m., the observatory said.

The Oxford University report is to be published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Previously, scientists had identified a few cases where volcanic eruptions follow very large earthquakes — but up until now it had been difficult to show statistically that such earthquakes may be the cause of an increase in eruptions, rather than the events just being a coincidence, said the university.

"The most unexpected part of this discovery was the considerable distance from the earthquake rupture where these eruptions took place, and the length of time for which we saw increased volcanic activity," said Sebastian Watt, a doctoral student in Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, who conducted the analysis.

"This suggests that seismic waves, radiating from the earthquake rupture, may trigger an eruption by stirring or shaking the molten rock beneath volcanoes. The disturbances that result from this lead to eruption but, because of the time it takes for pressure to build up inside a volcano and for magma to move towards the surface, an eruption may not occur until some months after the earthquake," Watt added. 

poás volcano
Photo by Jorge Brenes M.
Eruption at the Volcán Poás crater Tuesday.
flag at half staff
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Costa Rican flag flies at half staff in the judicial complex as sign of national mourning.

Cinchona soda
Photo by E. Duarte/Observatorio
Vulcanológico y Sismológico
One of the two Cinchona sodas or eating places destroyed Thursday that yielded bodies.

Watt examined the volcanic eruption and earthquake records of southern Chile where, in 1835, Charles Darwin first speculated on the link between earthquakes and eruptions, the university said. By careful analysis of historical records, he discovered that volcanic activity increased for about a year after each of the very largest earthquakes in southern Chile during the past 150 years, said the university, adding that the volcanoes most likely to be affected lay within about 500 kms. of the earthquake epicenter, and included both dormant and active volcanoes.

The great Chilean earthquakes in 1906 and 1960 (the largest earthquake ever recorded) were each followed by activity at six or seven volcanoes — a significant increase on the average eruption rate of about 1 per year, according to the study.

That would suggest that Thursday's quake might have affected all the volcanoes in the nation's central mountain range. Some like Poás and Arenal are obviously active. Others are not.

In another development Tuesday, the government requested international financial aid through the United Nations. The request was to receive assistance for rebuilding bridges and highways, as well as homes and agricultural enterprises. The area devastated by the quake was a major dairy producing region as well as the location of various agricultural providers.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez returned to the quake zone Tuesday to visit the Poasito school that was heavily damaged. Officials said that this school alone would require 600 million colons or about $1.1 million to rebuild. At least five other schools are also damaged in the area and classes start Feb. 9.

Rolando Hidalgo Villegas, the mayor of Santa Bárbara de Heredia on the fringe of the impacted area, was among those asking for aid Tuesday. He said that 203 quake refugees were housed in the  Liceo El Roble there and they lacked the most basic necessities.

Elsewhere some 2,100 persons were in public shelters and an undetermined number being housed privately. Many will never be able to return to their former homes. Officials said that communities like Cinchona can never be resettled. In addition, many communities will suffer even more damage when the rainy season begins due to the bare earth and damaged slopes.

Around the country the work goes on to raise funds and supplies for the displaced. Banco de Costa Rica has offered to match donations by individuals and companies. The account numbers are 91100-3 (colons) and 118281-1 (dollars). Banco Nacional de Costa Rica has established a colon account:  911-8.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 9

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New publication seeks
to give trade treaty info


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Consultantes Río Colorado S.A., the parent company of A.M. Costa Rica, has launched a new online publication designed to help importers, exporters and those offering related services.

The publication is The CAFTA Report, and the information is focused on the new trade treaty between the United States, the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

The idea is to provide journalistic-quality news on trade developments for the benefit of those seeking to use the treaty to advance their businesses. For U.S. exporters and importers here, the news articles will cover the developing regulations relating to the treaty.

Commercial messages will provide firms and individuals with offerings of various services, including legal.

As an example of content, a recent article notes that the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior is accepting requests for allocations for products that have quotas under the trade treaty. Many of these topics do not have sufficient general interest for publication in A.M. Costa Rica.

The publication also includes an e-mail notification service similar to that provided by A.M. Costa Rica.

The CAFTA Report is not designed as a daily publication but one where important developments will be published when they take place, said the publisher. The publication also includes articles on the intricacies of doing business in Costa Rica.


Gasoline prices are going
to receive a price cut

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency has approved a reduction of 72 colons (about 13 U.S. cents) in super gasoline and one of 66 colons (about 12 cents) per liter in the price of so-called plus gasoline. Diesel is being cut by 95 colons (17 cents) a liter.

The new prices will be 416 colons (75 cents) per liter of super, 408 (74 cents) for plus and 427 (77 cents) for diesel when the new prices are published in the la Gaceta official newspaper. The super price is $2.84 per U.S. gallon.

The new prices are based on the market price of petroleum from Dec. 25 to Jan. 8, the agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, said. The agency added that the prices were higher because of the increase in world prices due to the conflict in the Mideast.

There were similar reductions in liquid gas and jet fuel.


Road to Irazú volcano
closed for hillside work


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry said that it is closing Ruta 219 to the Volcán Irazú from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. from today to the end of February. There will be some access for heavy trucks making deliveries but passenger cars will be forbidden.

Construction crews are working on a hillside to remove and otherwise stabilize the soil to avoid slides. The work cost 80 million colons or about $144,000, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said.


Grim year is predicted
for automakers in U.S.


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A global marketing firm says 2009 will be another grim year for the auto industry, predicting U.S. auto sales will plunge by 13 percent.

U.S.-based J.D. Power and Associates said Tuesday that American consumers will only buy about 11 million vehicles this year, down from 13 million in 2008.

The firm's president Finnbarr O'Neill says, as a result, one of the major U.S. car companies will not survive.

America's two biggest car companies are not feeling optimistic despite unveiling several hybrids and electric cars this week at the International Auto Show in Detroit.

In separate interviews, Ford says its car sales could slide as much as 9 percent in the coming year, while General Motors warns it is having trouble selling small, fuel-efficient cars because gas prices have fallen.

Earlier Tuesday, the governor of Michigan called on the U.S. government to invest more money to help develop cheaper fuel-efficient technologies.

Struggling auto sales have also sparked concern in Germany. As part of its almost $66 billion economic stimulus package, Germany is offering one-time payments to consumers who buy new, environmentally-friendly cars.

Also Tuesday, workers at a General Motors plant in Brazil staged a brief protest, after the company announced it was eliminating more than 700 jobs. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 9



Marina Papagayo is within the protecting arm of the peninsula in northwest Costa Rica.
new marina


Marina Papagayo says its Phase I is open for business
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Peninsula Papagayo has opened Phase I of Marina Papagayo with 180 slips capable of accommodating private crafts ranging from sport fishing boats to mega-yachts, the marina said in a news release.

The project is on the Papagayo Peninsula in northwest Costa Rica. Eventually the marina hopes to have 380 high-tech slips with high-speed fuel pumps. Operators say they will be able to accommodate boats up to 240 feet. The project site is 2,500 acres stretching across two large pieces of land that extend into the Pacific Ocean. The deep water marina basin is surrounded by cliffs, immediately south of the 550,000-acre Parque Nacional Santa Rosa.

Situated below the hurricane belt and naturally sheltered from easterly trades along Pacific cruising coastline, Marina Papagayo will serve as both a pleasure stop and strategic harbor, said operators. This natural amphitheater location provides a year-round safe haven on calm, protected waters, they added.

“As a pivotal mooring location for yachts and vessels cruising from the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and all points of the Pacific, Marina Papagayo will be a key international port and Costa Rica’s most elegant and impressive marina facility,” said Alan Kelso, chief executive officer of Ecodesarrollo Papagayo, master developer of Peninsula Papagayo and Marina Papagayo.
“Nearly 3,000 years ago, this country’s inhabitants saw this area as an ideal seafaring environment, and it still is. Marina Papagayo and our Marina Village will be Costa Rica’s first and most exclusive luxury destination for yachting enthusiasts and home buyers, and the showpiece of Peninsula Papagayo’s resort community.”

The marina, part of the Papagayo public-private development, was announced in August 2003. At the time, designers hoped to have the marina ready for the 2005 boating season.

Brandy Marine, International LLC, a Florida firm with over 30 years of experience in designing, managing and operating marina facilities worldwide, is overseeing Marina Papagayo operations.

At completion, Marina Papagayo will have approximately 500 homes. For a limited time, ownership amenities include access to Peninsula Papagayo’s private 6,788-yard Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course and the newly opened Prieta Beach Club & Spa, featuring a beachside spa, workout facilities, multiple pools, bars and restaurants in a dramatic open-air setting, said the firm.

Development at Papagayo includes the 153 room-Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica.

Overall management of development in Papagayo is under the Instituto Costarricence de Turismo.


Arias hosts an unusual meeting of top crime fighters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez convened a top-level session on citizen security Tuesday as a proposed law on the topic ran into trouble in the legislature.

Legislative sources said that Casa Presidencial sent a message seeking to withdraw the measure. Movimiento Libertario lawmakers had proposed more than 100 changes in the proposal when it reached the floor of the Asamblea Legislativa.

This is the proposal that, among other anti-crime measures, would allow more extensive wiretapping and allow agents to investigate anyone who appeared to have more money and goods than they could easily justify. These proposals presented possible constitutional problems.

The target of the new measures is organized crime, which is defined broadly.

Arias met with Janina del Vecchio, the security minister; Viviana Marín; minister of Justicia y Gracia; José Torres, director of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad; Luis
Paulino Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia; Francisco Segura, subdirector of the Judicial Investigating Organization, and Francisco Dall’Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor.

Casa Presidencial is believed also to be studying information about an increase in violent crime in the country and the increasing influence and operation of Colombian terrorists and drug traffickers.

The meeting was announced only a few hours before it was held, and it was private. Casa Presidencial later provided an optimistic news release.

The release said that the chief prosecutor was considering instituting flagrancia courts through the country. These are the courts that quickly judge criminals who have been caught red handed in the act of a crime or so soon later that their involvement is not disputed.

Such a court is now in operation in the metro area.

The bill that Casa Presidencial seeks to withdraw is part of a package that also contains a revised immigration bill.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 9


Readers express their opinions on real estate and leftists
Chávez rant uninformed
on 'Democracy Now' show


Dear A. M. Costa Rica:

I have a comment to make about Mr. Michael Protiva's uninformed rant concerning Hugo Chávez and the American left ("Left-leaning show fails to be critical of Hugo Chávez," Jan. 13). With regard to why Mr. Protiva has "never once" heard Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now" be critical towards Mr. Chávez or his policies, I can only surmise it is because he doesn't actually listen to her show and is just spouting anti-left nonsense.

To cite just one example, on her Feb. 2, 2007, show, Ms. Goodman hosted a debate entitled "Do Chávez’ New Decree Powers Undermine Venezuelan Democracy?" between Francisco Rodríguez, assistant professor of economics and Latin American studies at Wesleyan University, and the former chief economist of the Venezuelan National Assembly, and James Petras, author, journalist and professor emeritus of sociology and Latin America studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

During the course of the debate Ms. Goodman first challenged Professor Petras about the validity of Mr. Chávez’ attempt to rule by decree rather than through direct voting on key issues and later on the wisdom of his nationalizing the Venezuelan oil industry. The fact the she even held such a debate questioning Mr. Chávez actions counters Mr. Protiva's basic assertion.

No one denies the leftist orientation of Ms. Goodman and her radio show, nor her sympathies for Mr. Chávez’ political agenda. However, to suggest that she automatically accepts every action by Hugo Chávez is absurd and reveals more about Mr. Protiva's biases than Ms. Goodman's.

Steven A Roman
La Asunción de Belén

Single incident fails
to prove writer's point


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, can Mr. Protiva please tell us how the actions of one “left wing political venue” can possibly make Mr. Chavez the “darling” of the U. S. Left?

Personally, I don’t listen to the show in question nor am I an admirer of Mr. Chavez, but I can’t help my marvel at the human mind’s ability to create issues where there is little or no substance. I strongly suspect that Mr. Protiva’s idea of the U. S. left wing is just a bit different from any real left wing in the U. S.
John G. Dungan
Farmers Branch, Texas


Radio show is example
of freedoms in States


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:


Mr. Michael Protiva from Santa Fe, New Mexico, wonders why the prominent “Democracy Now” is not critical of Hugo Chávez socialist style of government. There could be many reasons.  First and foremost, the freedom that exists in the U.S.A. allows socialist supporters to express themselves, even if it is anti-American. 

We can go out on the streets with a Che Guevara shirt on which will be just as disrespectful as flaunting a swastika or any other political incorrect icon.

We can publish an anti-American article, radio or TV show praising the accomplishment of a socialistic revolution such as Castro’s and not end up in jail.  Mr. Chávez as well as Castro will not allow that freedom.  Chávez closed TV stations for opposing his opinions, and hundreds of political prisoners and journalists languish in Cuba’s prisons only for supporting opinions different from those supported by the Cuban government.  That behavior is a crime in Cuba punishable with imprisonment and persecution.

Not to mention the confiscation of foreign investments and of national investors as is a common practice for such style of governments.  In a socialist country of Castro-Chávez style there is no room for private ownership, national or otherwise. It is very easy to be a socialist or Communist in America or practice any religion of your choosing.

Try doing that in Cuba. I do not know about Venezuela, but I can imagine not being too different from Castro who is Chávez' idol and mentor. 

Othon Tallet Bueno
Quepos and Kansas City, Missouri
Most of real estate market
does not involve Gringos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

With all due respect to your readers opinions sometimes they forget 95 percent of the real estate market is not made up of fancy houses in Escazú and Tamarindo nor luxury condos in Santa Ana or these new projects planned by the Forum and the Sabana Park.

The fellow who wants to know sales data at the national registry will find it very hard going since most people still do not declare the real values. Local municipalities are now making a greater effort to pressure owners to declare real values for their properties.  I recently assisted my own attorney in visiting the muni to check to see if he had to declare his house.  He was overjoyed that he still had a year before he needed to do so. The rule here in Escazú is you are required to file a declaration every five years.

Now in order to judge an overall change in prices, it would be best to start at one of the two government authorized mutuals whose function is mandated to assist in housing loans not commercial loans.  Since I handle many appraisals for one of the mutuals I can tell you that things are slower. The upscale housing market represents just a tiny fraction of the entire real estate market in Costa Rica.  Most of these properties are cash deals or some mixture of owner financing at this time.  I have written in the past that there are many ways to value property, but in my opinion the best one and most realistic is the cash flow analysis.

Take a condo that rents for $900 month and whose owner wants to sell it for $100,000.  Does this gross return of 10.8 percent make sense in a market where U.S. 30 year treasuries are yielding very little.  I watched in amazment when a local private bank makes an appraisal on an almost identical unit at $176,000.  Does this gross return of 6.14 percent make as much sense to you, given the fact that we cannot assume prices will continue to go up? 

I have been asked to do a valuation on some land which includes a hotel in Guanacaste next week.  The lender is interested in the land values, but I tend to look at cash flow potential not just comps, which is where too many real estate agents live in their heads.

Before everyone gets depressed, our strategic analysis of the future of Costa Rica over the long term is very bright.  The wave of baby boomer retirees will one day make people very happy.  There are only a few places in the world they can go, and Mexico is not one of them. So all of you owners who are not overextended, just wait.  Incidently, we discussed this with someone who owns 30 percent of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, recently who agrees with us.
Angela Jimenez Rocha
certified appraiser
orbitcostarica.com
Escazú




Flood of retirees from U.S.
slowed by economic woes


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A lot of the development in Costa Rica has been predicated on the fact that there are millions people in the retirement pool or coming into the pool in the U.S.  There has also been an expectation that North Americans can and will borrow on their homes in the U.S. and use the funds for purchases in Costa Rica.  There was also an assumption that the banks here would continue to offer favorable loans to North Americans, some banks actually targeting this market.   And there has been an assumption that the retirement accounts in the U.S. banks were not only rock solid but would continue to grow at a predictable rate.
 
Oops. Fewer people are retiring or retiring early.   There are NO loans for purchases of second homes in the U.S.   There is NO lending by the banks here in Costa Rica.  They (the banks) talk about opening things up in February, but I wouldn't hold my breath.   By and large, Ticos cannot get loans for purchases here in the local market.  Some institutions have a policy of NOTHING DOING in Guanacaste. And (a big and) the total equity in 401 plans in the U.S. has dropped by more than 35 percent during this latest market swoon along with the same percentage decline in home values.
 
I am not even touching the U.S. unemployment numbers.
 
Statistics are impossible to come by here in Costa Rica.  Best you draw your own conclusion about what is happening.
 
Jim Filerman
Santo Domingo, Heredia


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 9



A.M. Costa Rica

users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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Bush cites repression
in message to Cubans


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President George Bush has accused Cuba's government of responding to U.S. appeals for democratic reform with more repression of its people. Bush commented Tuesday in a message to the Cuban people, one week before he hands power to his successor, president-elect Barack Obama.

The president said his message is directed especially at those who have made pleas for freedom only to be silenced by tyranny and oppression.  He said as long as there are people who fight for liberty, the United States will stand with them and speak out for those whose voices have been temporarily silenced.

Later, the U.S. secretary of state-designate, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said she hoped Cuba's government would seize the chance to change and look at freeing political prisoners and open up the country's economy.  Mrs. Clinton made the remark at her Senate confirmation hearing.

A U.S. embargo against Cuba has been in place since the early 1960s.  Cuba likens the embargo to a genocide.

Uribe seeking Vatican aid
in freeing of hostages


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is proposing that the Vatican assist in securing freedom for six hostages that the leftist rebel group, the Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias, has promised to release.

Uribe said Monday in Bogota that if the Roman Catholic Church can help the hostages secure their freedom, his government would authorize and welcome such assistance. Uribe made the comment while preparing for a trip to the United States. There was no immediate response from the Vatican.

Last week, the rebel group said it is willing to hand over the six hostages it has promised to free but that it will only do so in the presence of an international representative.

The Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias said it wants someone from either a "brother country" or the international community to be on hand when it frees the hostages.

The rebels and the government have said they will let someone from the International Committee of the Red Cross be on hand for the release of the group, which includes two politicians, three police officers and a soldier. Uribe had said last week that he does not want any other international participation.

The Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias has said it would set the hostages free in a gesture aimed at reaching a deal on a larger exchange of captives for imprisoned rebels.

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