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(506) 223-1327            Published Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 18             E-mail us    
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Perpetual tourists might be able to benefit
New immigration bill would grant illegals amnesty

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government's new immigration proposals would grant amnesty to thousands of illegal residents by letting them pay into a fund each month or perform community service. Although the measure is meant to help Nicaraguans and other Latins here, so-called perpetual tourists might be able to take advantage of the stipulation.

In addition, the measure would require foreign

Mario Zamora
residents here to also pay into such a fund perhaps at a rate higher than other immigrants.

Central government officials said Tuesday that it was ready to present a redrawn immigration bill to the Asamblea Legislativa, but Casa Presidencial was unable to provide a copy. Instead, the government issued a press release in which it listed the high points.

Mario Zamora, director general de Migración, said there were more than 60 changes in the new legislation when compared to the immigration bill that became law in August. Among those changes is a system to let illegal immigrants stay in the country as long as they pay into a fund to support the education and health systems. This amount is supposed to be about $20 a month.

However, officials said the amount would vary depending on the type of residency. That suggests that pensionados, rentistas and inversionistas who are here legally mainly from North America and Europe would pay more. Officials have not addressed that point directly, although the text of the bill probably would clarify the issue.

There are about 300,000 Nicaraguans here and many of them are here illegally.

The existing immigration bill that went into effect in
August contains no concessions for persons living illegally here. President Óscar Arias Sánchez
opposed the new legislation that was passed by the previous legislature. He asked the current lawmakers to stop the law from going into force, but with the glacial speed with which the legislature moves, lawmakers were unable to do so.

Church and social groups have opposed the legislation that is now in effect as draconian.

Casa Presidencial said that the new proposal would penalize human trafficking, something the current law does not do.

The proposal also would create a commission to study the cases of foreigners from so-called restricted countries.

Now visas are awarded by the director general, but Zamora said two weeks ago that he turned down a $2.5 million bribe offered by those trafficking Chinese. Putting the visas through a committee would make decisions less prone to private influence.

The new proposal would require foreigners who marry Costa Ricans outside the country to wait three years before being able to get residency.

That is an effort to prevent fake marriages or so-called marriages of convenience. The effect on North Americans who marry Costa Ricans here or outside the country is not clear.

The proposal also would allow foreigners to apply for legal residency inside Costa Rica and not only at the Costa Rican consulate in their home country. Work permits would be made easier, too, said the Casa Presidencial release.

Perpetual tourists are those who live in Costa Rica but travel outside the county every 90 days to renew their tourism visa. The government has not cracked down on that process.

Typically, perpetual tourists do not want or are unable to apply for one of several residency categories. Some have criminal records. Others do not have the funds to be a pensionado or rentista.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 18

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Festivals start Friday honoring
Parrita's mules and tomatoes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two national festivals, one celebrating the tomato and the other celebrating mules, open Friday at different towns in Costa Rica.

The Feria Nacional del Tomate 2007 is in San José de Trojas, which is about 7 kilometers north of Sarchí. A big feature here is the guerra de tomates or tomato war that takes place at 3 p.m. both Sunday and Feb. 4.

In Parrita, residents will be at the Festival Nacional de las Mulas to celebrate the contributions that animal made to the early development of the area.

Both festivals run for two weekends.

The area around San José de Trojas produces about 40 percent of the nation's tomatoes, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, which is a cosponsor of each event.

Visitors can participate in various contests, including packing tomatoes and displaying the largest tomato.

For the war, residents use tomatoes that are not appropriate for human consumption.. Two groups will go at each other with the anticipated mess. The war has historical roots and in the past featured encounters of producers in the area.

Naturally there will be cooking displays with a number of contests and displays of machinery and concerts. Also planned are a carnival, karaoke, horse parades and sale of products.

The festival opens Friday at noon, and the carnival is scheduled for Saturday. There is a horse parade or tope Feb. 3. Various musical groups are playing each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Parrita, where the festival of mules will take place, is between Jacó and Quepos on the central Pacific coast. One high spot is a national rally of vehicles and tractors Sunday.
There are Costa Rican-style bull fights both Fridays and a special on Feb. 1 that will be free and open to the public.

Mule races are Saturday and Feb. 3 and 4. The Parrita event is put on by the Asociación para el Bienestar del Cantón de Parrita. A special  mulódromo has been constructed for the mule races.

The races began when a few farmers from Parrita began running mules on nearby Esterillos Beach, according to the tourism institute. The hobby that started out as way of having fun has become one of Parrita’s most popular traditions, the institute said.

Low-price airline says
it will begin service April 5


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Spirit Airline, a U.S. low-priced airline, said Tuesday that it will begin service three days a week between Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela and its hub in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, April 5. The company said it expected to make the service daily May 23.

The airline, which began in 1992 as Charter One, is offering 8-cent promotion flights on tickets purchased before midnight today. It also is offering $69 promotion fares until midnight Feb. 7.

Spirit has 33 destinations in the United States and Latin America. The airline uses a fleet of Airbus aircraft. It's departure time at Juan Santamaría is expected to be 12:45 p.m. with arrival in Florida at 5:30 p.m. local time. The return trip will leave at 11:15 a.m. and arrive in San José at noon. The flight is about two hours and 45 minutes.  In April there will be a two-hour time difference between San José and Florida.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 18







            Monic Chabot                                        Deborah Griffith                                     Ginette Laurin
Canadian trio combine business with social responsibility
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three Canadian women have been making a difference in Costa Rica, and, in doing so, they are redefining the bottom line in the world of business. 

The highly competitive business world is hard enough to manage, let alone to try do so in a foreign country with the goal of creating meaningful change for those less fortunate.  For three Canadian women, their instant love for Costa Rican outweighed the risk of losing everything.  In separate adventures, and after selling house and home to move here, all three have been running successful businesses with a bit of a humanitarian twist.

Monic Chabot from Montreal, Quebec, made her way to Costa Rica for the first time in 1992.  She caught the Costa Rican bug after attending a self-empowerment conference held by some of her current associates, and she said she knew that it was time for a career change.

Ms. Chabot had been working at Bell Canada for 20 years. During that time she volunteered for organizations such as the Red Cross and Keroul, which promotes and develops accessible tourism for those with a physical disability. 

Ms. Chabot left Bell, sold everything and moved to Costa Rica to start the Fundación Acceso Universal a la Naturaleza, a non-profit organization.  The goal of the organization was to make the Costa Rican tourism locations more accessible to persons with restricted physical abilities, and she took the idea far beyond that.

In 1998 she organized and led a group of disabled persons on a tour around Costa Rica.  Pushing the limits of accessibility, she traveled with a wheelchair group in a converted bus to the Arenal volcano and other tourist areas that were not always outfitted for the group. 

Perhaps the greatest physical feat that her organization pulled off was leading a blind group to climb the Chirripó, the second highest peak in Central America.  With the help of Red Cross volunteers, the group made it to the 3,820-meter (12,533-foot) summit in three days, just in time to celebrated the international day for physically challenged people Dec. 3, 2001.

Fundación Acceso Universal a la Naturaleza has since been dissolved into Ms. Chabot new project, the International Institute for Creative Development.   The organization provides information consultation and conferences on both self-empowerment and accessible tourism for physically disabled persons.  Three more tours of Costa Rica have been planned for this year.

Deborah Griffith of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, made her first journey to Costa Rica in 1997.  She is an enthusiast of everything electrical. So instead of spending her time sipping out of coconuts on the beach, she spent her vacation studying much of the Costa Rican electrical infrastructure and thinking of how she could help to improve it. 

Her opportunity to make a mark on the country came in 2001 while studying her third degree at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, as part of the Canadian Government's Besters program.  After the Canadian Government signed the free trade agreement with Costa Rica, Mrs. Griffith redesigned her entire program around
opening a business that provided Canadian infrastructure support in Costa Rica.

Dobson Holdings Inc. extended into Costa Rica a year later in May of 2002.  This is a business regardless of whether it strengthens infrastructure here or not.  But where Mrs. Griffith really makes a difference is in the side projects that she and her company have taken on. This is the responsibility of any good company, she said.

At the 18th annual casino night in Playas del Coco, Mrs. Griffith's company was the major sponsor in the event that raised over $10,000 for the local school.  This money is used to purchase everything from toilets to school uniforms to Christmas presents for students in the area. 

In what spare time she has, Mrs. Griffith also teaches English to 3-year-olds in a San José orphanage.  The company is a sponsor of Proyecto de Luz, another organization that looks to improve the lives of children living in Costa Rica.  And finally, she said that if she takes a
month off in 2007, her plans are to travel to El Salvador and volunteer at an orphanage washing dishes, teaching or whatever would help, she said.

Ginette Laurin also from Montreal, Quebec, made her first visit to Costa Rica in 1997 and said she fell in love with the country immediately.  Feeling like it was her destiny to work, live and help out the children of Costa Rica, Mrs. Laurin returned to Canada, took permanent leave from her job, sold all her belongings and risked everything to move here two years later.  “I was doing a lot of soul searching and realized I no longer wanted the stress of a high management secretary job,” she said, adding that “I believe I was led here all the way.”

Ms. Laurin spent the next few years volunteering her time as a teacher at a Salvation Army center, but in her heart she said she felt that she could do more in a different capacity.  One of her original ideas was to have a bed-and-breakfast run by street kids and orphans, in hopes that this could provide them with a more stable life and income.  On April 17, 2001, she took the risk of opening her own bed-and-
breakfast. Since then Casa Laurin has provided employment for teenagers living in some of the hardest local conditions.

One of the first employees was Kattia, who was just 16-years-old when she started to work at the bed-and-
breakfast. Ms. Laurin not only provided paid employment to the youngster, but also helped her with homework and taught her other aspects of life such as cooking, she said.

The bed-and-breakfast owner sees her relationships with the under privileged children as being mutually beneficial.  She receives a worker that can help her run Casa Laurin, located in Escazú, and workers receive pay that is above the minimum wage, an education and support from the Costa Rican health care system that Ms. Laurin pays monthly.

Ms. Laurin said that having a positive impact on her workers lives is the main goal.  She said she normally gains contact with the kids through the Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation and will work their with a psychologist to ensure that the position is a positive, stabilizing influence on their lives.

All three women live here for much of the year and continue to pursue their goals of running a business in a way that helps themselves and others around them. 


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 18


Development plan sets a number of abstract goals for nation
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crime and tourism were two of the suggested areas for improvement in the national development plan presented Wednesday night, but they were only two in a long list of wishes.

Not many would disagree with unifying the countries political sectors around goals such as combating corruption, increasing employment, reducing poverty, stemming crime and drug trafficking, improving the transportation infrastructure. So, there are no surprises as far the outline of the new development plan goes: the government wants better things for Costa Rica.

The overall tone of the evening is that Costa Rica has been lacking in direction.  President Oscar Arias Sánchez said that Costa Ricans have forgotten that planned, not improvised policies lead to the development of a nation. 

He then heralded the Costa Rican Plan Nacional de Desarrollo as the way forward but said that there is no such thing as development without compromises.  He did not mention what compromises.

One of the more telling plans of the government was mentioned by Kevin Casas, second vice president.  He said that the country needs to reduce its dependence on foreign
oil and move towards producing 100 percent of the country's electricity needs with renewable energy sources.  Another was the need for a national drug addiction center for minors.

The plan is summarized in a 135-page booklet.

Among those at the elaborate presentation Wednesday in Teatro Nacional was Franklin Chang Diaz, the Costa Rican-American who gained fame as a U.S. astronaut. He gave a laudatory description of the life of Jorge Manuel Dengo Obregón, the founder of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The development plan bears Obregon's name.

The first floor of the theater was filled with officials and spouses. The greatest applause went to two young pianists, Daniela Navarro Mora, 10, and Daniela Rodó Aranda, 15.

The descriptions in the plan are abstract. For example, in the three paragraphs addressing criminality, titled vencer el temor, "to conquer the fear," the plan talks about reinserting convicts into society and that any strategy that is limited to punishing crimes is doomed to failure.

The three paragraphs labeled developing tourism address sustainable tourism and the development of new products and aid to small and medium enterprises. But there are no specifics.


Former Panamanian dictator Noriega will be out of prison Sept. 9, lawyer says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The defense attorney for Manuel Noriega says the former Panamanian dictator is to be released from a Miami prison in September.

Noriega has been in U.S. custody since surrendering 17 years ago during the U.S. invasion of Panama. He is currently serving a 30-year sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering.

"He has now come to the point where he has served what is known as his mandatory release time, which means the government must release him from custody on September 9th this year," said Frank Rubino, Noriega's attorney.

Rubino says good behavior was one of the factors
considered for the release. He says his client plans to return to Panama once out of U.S. custody.

"He has only been to the United States three times in his whole life and has no desire to stay here," he said. "Like anyone else, he wants to return to his home."

But in Panama, Noriega was convicted in absentia on murder charges, and Rubino says his client plans to defend himself in that case. "When he returns to Panama, he will, through his lawyers, make a motion to reopen that trial so he can participate in it," he said. Rubino says Noriega plans to do the same to fight a conviction in France.

Noriega ruled Panama for most of the 1980s. He was toppled by the U.S. invasion of Panama which began December 1989.



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