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(506) 2223-1327       Published Friday, Jan. 30, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 21       E-mail us
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Buyers of stalled condos worry about down payment
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's real estate market is grinding to another crisis as developers find they are unable to perform on their promises.

In beach towns and in the Central Valley condo buyers gave money to developers as down payments in anticipation that a building would be erected. Now many structures do not exist or stand unfinished, and the buyer's legal problems are just beginning.

The basic problem is that many developers used the down payments to finance construction. Local banks have frozen lending, so even the strongest developer may find it cannot complete the job.

Some buyers were under the impression that their money would be held in trust. In the United States strong trust laws protect buyers and hold the funds until the finished product is delivered. Not so in Costa Rica.

Some buyers gave their money to Stewart Title. That was the case with a Jacó woman, Gretchen Gary, who said she put a $21,000 deposit on a condo there. Thursday the title company manager, Esteban Rodriguez Varela, told her the company had disbursed the money to the developer when the sales agreement was signed.  That is what the contract said and that is what the title company did, he added in an e-mail. He could not be contacted by a reporter.

Another buyer put up $78,000 for an as-yet unfinished penthouse condo, said the woman. Sales prices ranged from $189,900 to $749,900, she said.

In Escazú some buyers are suing a developer, but they found that the entire project is covered by a first mortgage that has priority over their deposit money.

Elsewhere unhappy would-be buyers are finding that banks have first position with a construction mortgage.

The problem is not restricted to condos. Paragon Properties sold many lots to North Americans via an aggressive telephone and mail campaign. Buyers took a trip to Costa Rica, signed sales agreements and paid part of the purchase price.
cashus fugit

A typical Paragon contract requires additional payments every several years and that the purchaser begins construction within a stipulated period.

There is nothing illegal with the contract, except that the world financial situation has changed so that buyers who were planning for an early retirement may now have lost much of their money in the stock market downturn. Paragon executives were not available Thursday to assess the extent of the problem. Other firms that sold vacant land have similar contracts.

Ms. Gary, who is in the real estate business, was quick to point out that many developers who canceled their projects did refund down payments to buyers. Others allowed buyers to obtain property in another development. She named Vista CR and DayStar, a former employer, as two firms that have kept their promises.

For Arcelio Hernández Mussio, a lawyer in Jacó with wide knowledge in real estate, major developers cannot afford to cheat customers because of the damage such actions would do to their reputations. He said he thinks most developers will come to some agreement with those who put down deposits.

Others may allow buyers to accept property in another project, he said.

Of course, some start-up firms that may have been under capitalized to begin with might not have a choice, and principals many not even be still in the area. The firms find themselves unable to make more sales or to borrow construction money to raise cash to finish the whole project.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 21

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Telecom panel rejects
phone company's increase


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new telecommunications regulating board has rejected a unilateral rate increase in telephone service instituted by the phone company.

The board, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, told the phone company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, to abstain from collecting higher fees from the public. The increases covered calls and text messages.

The  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad maintains that since Aug. 22 when the new telecommunications law went into effect, it had the right to set fees because the telecom regulating board did not exist.

An appeal to the regulating board is likely followed by a court case.


Police officer who was shot
lost his lung, doctor says


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Physicians had to remove the right lung of a police officer who was gunned down by bandits Wednesday afternoon. He was hit at close range by a shotgun blast. The bandits escaped.

The police officer is José Antonio Román Azofeifa. Police officials and the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, Janina del Vecchio, visited the officer at his hospital bed in Calderón Guardia Thursday.

Luis Paulino Hernández, director of Hospital Calderón Guardia, characterized the officer's condition as delicate but stable. He said that the left lung has expanded to take over the work of the lung that was removed.

Román was chasing two men on a motorcycle who had just committed a robbery of a truck driver. They pulled over the motorcycle as if to stop for the officer. When he got off his own motorcycle and approached them one turned and fired on him at close range. The shooting took place at Los Sauces de San Francisco de Dos Ríos.

The physician said that the man has about three more days in intensive care and then more time in the hospital.

The visitors also saw José Malespín Chávez, the police commander who was shot in the face by a robber at a Barrio Amón backpacker hotel Dec. 30.

Bids for Interamerican Norte
are ready to be sought


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said it is ready to seek bids for repair and widening of the Interamerican Norte. The appropriate bid resolution was published this week in the la Gaceta official newspaper.

The job involves reconstruction of some 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) from Barranca in the Cantón de Puntarenas north to Peñas Blancas at the Nicaraguan border.

Bids from contractors are due March 3, and a pre-bid meeting is planned for Feb. 11.

The highway is considered a critical route in the Plan Puebla-Panama, the ministry said.


Road at Intel to be closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A contractor will be installing a drainage pipe in Calle Avión near the Intel Corp plant in Rivera de Heredia. The work will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and last until 5 p.m. Sunday, said the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

The contractor, Constructora Presbere S.A. recommended a detour about a third of a mile west of the job site.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 21



Arias rescue plan leans heavily on assuming more debt
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez presented his 29-point stimulus and rescue plan to the country Thursday night.
The president's proposals depend heavily on borrowing, including a $500 million infusion for the Banco Central. Many of the proposals already have been discussed and some have already been approved. The rescue plan appeared to be an integration of what the administration has been doing for months. There were some new items.

For example, Arias proposed providing state banks with $117.5 million to increase their liquidity. That project was in the news last Dec. 22 after the Asamblea Legislativa approve a law doing just that.

For business people Arias proposed making the rigid work day more flexible. He said he would institute this by presidential decree. This would allow employers to schedule workers for four-day, 10-hour shifts. They can do so now, but they have to pay a premium. Efforts to change the law in the legislature have failed for years.

Arias also said that he would approve an accelerated depreciation schedule for businesses so they could write down their capital purchases sooner and save on taxes.

Arias did not propose a more comprehensive system of unemployment insurance, as expected. But he did say he would ask the Caja Costarricence de Seguro Social to lengthen the medical and social coverage of displaced workers from three to six months.
As expected, the Arias plan focused heavily on the low-income residents of the country. He said he would seek another increase in the monthly pensions paid to those who did not earn a regular pension during their working life.

He also said he would set up a voucher plan so that students in the most poverty stricken cantons could bring home food to their families for the weekend.

He also said he would move to get interest lowered for home buyers and businesses. He also would order state agencies to pay their bills within 30 days. Many agencies are slow payers, and vendors have to tie up funds waiting for checks.

Some of the proposals Arias will do himself with decrees. Others require approval by the legislature. Others will require persuasion by the president because he has no direct control over state banks or private businesses.

However, Arias did say that he would seek some kind of measure so that private companies would have to cut hours of the workers instead of letting some go. It was unclear how he would do this.

He also said his administration would push for telecommuting on the theory that this saves companies money.

Ministers and others gave Arias a standing ovation at the end of the talk, which was held in an auditorium in south San José.


Here is the Óscar Arias 29-point stimulus/rescue proposal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is what President Óscar Arias proposed or included in his Thursday speech:

1. Authorize a 15-percent increase in non-contributive pensions, that is pensions that were not paid for by the recipient's work history. This is the fourth such increase during the Arias administration.

2. Provide weekend food for children and their families: Some 16,326 students in 37 cantons will receive vouchers exchangeable at local markets for about 70 percent of the nutritional needs for a family of four for the next three months.  Arias will try to budget a similar program for 2009.

3. Provide an increase in the Avancemos program, a payment plan for school children, to include 150,000 youngsters, 28,000 more than now.

4. Write off debt for 2,100 families in the national housing program who have low incomes.

5. Increase borrowing limits by 335,000 colons ($605) so that each low-income family that seeks a housing loan will get about 5 million colons (about $9,070).

6. Lower the interest rate in state banks by 2 percent for housing loans up to 50 million colons (about $90,000).

7. Request the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos to change its procedures so that decreases in the price of fuel are quickly reflected in the fares.

8. Seek passage of a law that would require employers to cut the hours of all their workers instead of firing some.

9. Promote work by Internet in the private sector with the hope that each workplace will save 100,000 colons ($180) a month in costs associated with employees being in the workplace.

10. Seek approval from the Asamblea Legislativa of a bill that would allow employers to have flexibility in work hours, such as in setting up a four-day work week. This plan has been in the hopper for years but is opposed by employee unions. Major companies, like Intel, strongly support the idea.

11. Provide scholarships for displaced workers with the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje so workers can learn a new trade.

12. Create a program to instill the business culture among young people under the sponsorship of the Ministerio de Trabajo.

13.  Request the national student loan agency, Comisión Nacional de Préstamos para Educación, to put a moratorium on student loans and to give a six-month amnesty for borrowers who have lost their jobs.

14. Increase from three months to six months the period in which a discharged worker is covered by the Caja
Costarricense de Seguro Social, which includes the national medical plan.

15. Create an educational trust for the construction of schools. This appears to be a form of bond issue so that schools can be built now and payment made later. The price tag is 29 billion colons, about $52 million.

16. Construction of all the public works budgeted for the various ministries. This includes road work, housing, airports, health clinics and other public projects.

17. Seek the approval of an $850 million loan for highways, aid to municipalities and the metropolitan trains and public transport.

18. Seek approval of a $500 million loan to strengthen the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the electrical generating and telecom company that used to be a government monopoly.

19. Seek approval of an $80 million loan to revitalize the Puerto de Limón and the adjacent community. This already has been announced.

20. Provide technical support to the municipalities to help them spend some 26 billion colons ($50 million) on infrastructure. This includes planning, engineering and assistance in letting contracts.

21. Strengthen the Banca para Desarrollo with an infusion of 222 billion colons ($400 million). The goal is to make financing available for small and medium businesses.

22. Promote the Plan Nacional de Alimentos so that food that is necessary for the residents of the country is produced by the nation's farmers.

23. Seek a reduction of 2 percent in the interest charged to small and medium business creditors by the state banks.

24. Seek a reduction of interest from 1 to 2.5 percent by cooperative lending institutions.

25. Issue a presidential decree to accelerate the depreciation schedule of capital goods held by businesses so that there is a reduction in their income tax, thanks to higher write offs.

26. Require the state to pay for goods and services within 30 days so that small and medium businesses do not have to wait for long periods for their payments.

27. Provide $117.5 million to state banks to increase their liquidity. This already has been approved.

28. Support a law that would allow state banks to lend in subordinate positions and establish the way such loans are figured for the banks' balance sheets. This is now not allowed, but private banks can do so.

29. Ask the Asamblea Legislativa to approve a $500 million loan from the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo for the Banco Central de Costa Rica so that the bank can finance activities like exportation. The development bank already has approved the loan, but local approval is needed.


Life is not a box of chocolates but a puzzle frame
For some reason I can’t explain to myself, I have opened the box of a picture puzzle that I have had in the closet for months, if not years.  I like puzzles but avoided this one for a number of reasons.  But I opened the box, picked out the edge pieces as I normally do and began it.  Picture puzzles are nice because I can do them while carrying on a conversation or listening to the news.  They also make a nice break from writing.

 But this one is ridiculously difficult and will give me no great satisfaction when I am finished.  That is when I began to think about Forrest Gump and his mother’s philosophy.  In fact, I thought, life is like a picture puzzle, not a box of chocolates.  There is the framework you have to fill in.  Often the picture is quite beautiful, a work of art (the kind I prefer), but usually it is just a copy of something else, a photo. 

Finding the pieces that fit is the challenge.  Some puzzles have interesting pieces, but with newer puzzles the pieces are thinner and more uniform.  Still, getting them to fit is interesting.  Usually you work on one little section at a time, ignoring the broader picture, even forgetting what the finished product should look like.  Concentration on a particular section can be intense with mistakes and frustrations with one piece in the wrong place.  Then finally it gets easier and easier, and less puzzling, (also with fewer options) and it is done. 

You stand back and look at it in its entirety. You might shrug thinking about the time you put in on various parts of it.  Some you can’t even remember doing.  And then (if you can’t do it yourself), someone breaks it up and puts it in a box – or if you want to get it off the planet, you burn it.  Or you may donate it to someone who can use it.  My friend Sandy said, “Or you just get another puzzle and keep going.”

She can say that.  She has lived a dozen lives already, from Texas to Africa to Indonesia to Australia, and now in Costa Rica, all under different circumstances.   I’ll just settle for reincarnation.   But, sorry, Forrest, your mother
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

 
was wrong.  Life is not as easy as a box of chocolate. Life is like a picture puzzle.

Still, I can’t escape feeling guilty when I spend my time doing one — especially when I think about people like my grandniece, Shannon, whom I can’t imagine having time enough to do such a thing.

Shannon is a beautiful young woman with six children (I’ve been in diapers for 14 years!”), all of whom she has been home schooling, and she is now also working part-time in her chiropractor husband’s office.  Shannon does everything well, but in her heart she is a world traveler.  She is an avid reader of National Geographic and imagines living in faraway places. 

She was hoping to take a few days off and come to Costa Rica as a companion to my sister.  (I think she feels she needed a persuasive reason to justify leaving her family.)  But my sister is grieving the loss of her husband – a truly great guy – and is reluctant to leave home just yet. 

But, not to worry, Shannon.  I am pretty sure that like Sandy, your life is going to be full of new and different puzzles – probably most of them exotic views of distant lands, as well as happy tow-headed children.  And every now and then you are going to be surprised with a chocolate with a cherry in it.

Jo’s Book, “Butterfly in the City,” about living a happy and thrifty life in Costa Rica, is available by contacting jostuart@amcostarica.com.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 30, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 21


Law enforcement task force to continue Puntarenas sweep
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Security ministry officials say that a 13-day sweep of the Provincia de Puntarenas has netted 54 persons. They also said they found seven illegal firearms, four illegal knives and four quarter sticks of dynamite. They said they would continue the operator for three more months.

The police sweep began Jan. 14. This was the law enforcement effort that resulted in a riot in barrios Fray Casiano and El Progreso in the Cantón de Puntarenas where police battled rock-throwing youths.

In addition to security ministry units, the sweep involved the Policía de Tránsito, the Policía de Control Fiscal, the Ministerio de Salud, the municipalities, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the Ministerio de Educación Pública, the Ministerio Público and the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Officials said that every canton in the sprawling Provincia de Puntarenas will be visited during the sweep that lasts until April 29.

The officers set up highway control points and make selective stops of vehicles. They also enter business establishments and seek out gatherings of illegal foreigners.
Fuerza Pública boat
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Newly trained Fuerza Pública officers try out one of the agency's new speedboats.


The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública also announced that Fuerza Pública officers have been trained in the uses of small boats to patrol the rivers and canals of the coasts and inland waterways.  Limón, Sarapiquí, Los Chiles and Puntarenas each will get one craft.

The small boats were purchased with the ministry's share of an exit tax on bananas.


Chávez appears to be gaining support for end of term limits
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An independent polling firm in Venezuela says President Hugo Chávez is gaining support for a Feb. 15 referendum that would abolish term limits and allow him to seek re-election indefinitely.

The Datanalisis firm says a survey of 1,300 people indicates that more than 51 percent of voters support a constitutional amendment to end term limits for all elected officials. Last month, another Datanalisis poll put support for President Chavez's proposal at below 40 percent.

The current constitution bans the president from running again when his term ends in 2012.

In late 2007, voters narrowly rejected a package of measures including one that would have eliminated presidential term limits. In a speech at that time, Chávez said the defeat was only "for now" and that he would continue his battle to build socialism.

Chávez was first elected in 1998. He won approval for a new constitution the following year.

Meanwhile, Israel has expelled Venezuela's ambassador, weeks after the Latin American country expelled Israeli diplomats and broke ties with Israel over Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's foreign ministry said Wednesday it ordered the Venezuelan envoy and his staff out of the country in
response to Venezuela's decision to sever relations. The group has until today to leave.

Venezuela's foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network that Venezuela is proud Israel expelled its diplomats. He called Israeli leaders "criminals" and said their response was "weak" and "late."

The minister rejected accusations that the Venezuelan government was anti-Semitic, complaining that countries criticizing Israel are "automatically added to the list of anti-Semites."

He also dismissed claims that Venezuela supports the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, or the Lebanese-based militant group Hezbollah, which fought a brief war with Israel in 2006.

Venezuela expelled Israel's ambassador Jan. 6 and broke off diplomatic relations Jan. 14.

The two countries have had similar tensions before. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Chávez withdrew his country's ambassador to Israel in protest. He likened Israel's military offensive in Lebanon to "genocide." Israel followed suit, withdrawing its own envoy from Venezuela.

Israel has also expressed concern about friendly relations between Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction.


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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.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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Five Latin presidents join
others at socialist forum

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The presidents of Venezuela and Ecuador are calling for an overhaul of capitalism as they join thousands of anti-globalization activists at this year's World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil.

Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Ecuador's Rafael Correa made their comments Thursday at the conference, which is intended to provide a counterweight to this week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The two presidents are among five Latin American leaders scheduled to join an estimated 100,000 activists in Belem. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and Evo Morales of Bolivia are also taking part. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva is to attend this year instead of traveling to the Davos forum.

The six-day World Social Forum, in its ninth year, is aimed at analyzing alternatives to capitalism, and comes this year in the midst of the global economic crisis.

An estimated 100,000 activists from 150 countries worldwide are participating in the forum, which opened Tuesday and ends on Sunday.

Wednesday, delegates analyzed the plight of native communities in the Amazon. They highlighted environmental concerns, such as deforestation and excessive farming. 

Russian leader entertains
Cuba's Raúl Castro at lodge


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, have opened informal talks at the Russian leader's hunting lodge outside Moscow.

The meeting at the Zavidovo lodge comes on the eve of formal talks at the Kremlin Friday.

Welcoming the Cuban leader, Medvedev referred to Mr. Castro's visit to the same lodge 25 years ago. He pledged to again treat the Cuban leader to a walk in the woods and a meal of pork roasted over an open fire.

The talks are expected to focus on strengthened ties between the former Cold War allies. The two countries also are expected to sign several agreements.

This is the first trip to Russia by a Cuban leader since 1986, when Mr. Castro's brother, Fidel Castro, visited Moscow.  Medvedev traveled to Cuba in November in a bid to build ties in Latin America. 

Last year, Russia signed a $20 million trade agreement with Cuba to expand economic cooperation. 

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