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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 23       E-mail us
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Developer sold North Americans 2,509 lots
Paragon head promises firm will keep its promises

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite what he calls a tough situation, the chairman of Paragon Properties of Costa Rica, S.A., renewed his promise Monday that he would complete the infrastructure on the company's many projects here.

Paragon was the company that invited North Americans here and sold them vacant lots in projects that did not yet have hard-surfaced roads,
water lines and other amenities.The company is one of Costa Rica's major developers with 17 projects of which 15 are fully permitted and ready for home construction, said the chairman, Bill Gale, in a telephone interview from his Florida offices.

The company sold 2,509 lots of a possible 2,600 he 
Bill Gale
Bill Gale
said. The lack of progress had generated criticism, and the current economic crisis has magnified the concern of those who put down an average of 40 percent of the price of the lots. Heights of Pacifica one-acre lots originally sold for $19,900. But the company also sold lots of one hectare, 2.47 acres, at its other projects for $60,000.

The aggressive marketing program relied on Internet and phone rooms. At one point the company said it was sending out 30 million e-mails a month.

"We have every reason, desire and purpose to continue what we started," said Gale. He said he hoped to be able to show progress in 60 days.

Gale is a Florida real estate broker and no newcomer to development. But he said doing the projects in Costa Rica has been a challenge. There are five private homes completed in the company's subdivisions now, and Paragon has rented them as show properties, Gale said.

A.M. Costa Rica first wrote about the firm, a brash newcomer, in December 2004.  It said a few weeks later that the company was using a skimpy sales contract leaving a lot of important points unaddressed.

In May 2005 when Paragon had five properties on sale and two in the planning stage a reporter visited Heights of Pacifica in the hills above Parrita on the
central Pacific coast. Roads had been roughed in but hard surface was not installed. A water pipeline had been installed.

Gale said Monday that The Heights, The Hills and the Valley of Pacifica projects all have water systems now with a 66,000 gallon tank. The firm's other projects are of one hectare lots where a septic system and a well would be installed by property owners when they build. The other projects are up and down the Pacific coast.

Gale also said Monday that his firm is going to be as flexible as it can with individuals who purchase lots and now find themselves in economic problems. He said that a news story Friday incorrectly said that purchasers have just five years to build on their lots. He said there is no such deadline.

Because of the current financial situation many persons are delaying retirement or are finding that they have less money. Consequently they want to put off building a retirement home.

Gale said his company only makes money when it begins construction. He also said that under contract his company is obligated to produce homes for property owners for $60 to $90 a square foot.

He continues to be high on Costa Rica and says he continues to see a wave of U.S. baby boomers and retirees headed in that direction. The estimated population of all of Paragon's projects would be about 5,300, he said. Nearly all would be North Americans.

Gale said that when he speaks of infrastructure he means more than roads, water lines and electrical systems. He said the company is committed to building clubhouses at some of the projects and even a small pitch and putt golf course.

The paragon chairman said he was aware of negative comments about his firm. Such criticism has been consistent the entire time the firm has been working here. With little obvious progress at the company's projects, the criticism has increased.

But Gale said he was experiencing pain and agony knowing that some people had lost confidence.

"When they gave me their money, they gave me their confidence," he said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 23

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Cloud Forest poster
Part of poster for race

Cloud Forest School sets
10K race for student aid

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, known locally as the Centro de Educación Creativa, is hosting the third annual Carrera Creativa Feb. 14 to raise money for its financial aid fund. 

The course is a creative and challenging 10K loop through Monteverde. It will begin at 9 a.m. at the Cloud Forest School. Registration fee is 6,000 colons. All runners receive a t-shirt with their registration fee. There will be prizes for age-group winners. Following the race, there will be food, live music and games.

To register, runners can visit the Web site www.cloudforestschool.org or call 2645-5161. There will also be a 5K walk that follows a different route through the center of Monteverde, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

The Cloud Forest School offers a unique and student-centered approach to learning. It is the only school in Costa Rica combining strong academic standards and English immersion with an environmental focus.  More than 75 percent of the students at the Cloud Forest School depend on financial assistance in order to attend.

Escazú Legion post plans
to beef up its membership


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's first American Legion post, Post 10 in Escazú, is holding its meeting now at noon on the first Wednesday of the month.

The post, chartered in 1957, has been revitalized with the addition of more than 20 new members, said a press release.

Any former member whose membership has lapsed is welcome to rejoin, it said. The meetings are at the Bello Horizonte Country Club in Escazú, and any veterans of a uniformed service are invited to attend, the release said.

Among the benefits, the post has an experienced service officer who can help eligible veterans with their pensions and disability applications, it added.

The post supports the Casa Nuestra Señora del Refugio in Escazú, the Cruz Roja and the Salvation Army in San José, the release said, promising that the post would hold or join in many activities, including Memorial Day observances, the Fourth of July celebration, the Sept. 11 commemoration, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

Those interested can contact Chuck Turner at 2228-6014, Mel Goldberg at 2288-0454, John Morgan at 2232-7876 or Steve Venghaus at 2231-6105.


Our reader's opinion
Arias needs to stress
other points in shield plan


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was amazed after reading the 29 points of the President's speech that there was no mention of plans to attempt to increase revenue (especially tourism) in the country.   As in any business, there are two sides to the equation — costs and revenue.  The president mainly addressed the cost side. 
 
I am reading that tourism is down as much as 50 percent this season due to the global economy.   It certainly doesn't help that murders are up 25 percent last year, and international media reports about Costa Rica often address the increasing crime problem and the government not doing anything about it.  Every time I mention that I own property in Costa Rica and plan to retire there, the first question I hear is "aren't you afraid to live there?" or "is it safe there?"  I am not sure how to answer those questions anymore.
 
There are at least a few things that the Costa Rica government could do to help the economic situation significantly:
 
1.  Respond to the increasing crime problem aggressively.

2.  Advertise Costa Rica Tourism Internationally (at least attempt to mitigate the bad press).

3.  Stop discouraging, and begin encouraging again foreign investment and retirement (nonsensical policies are driving us away).
 
This is not meant to be negative criticism.   I love Costa Rica and cheer for the Costa Rican people and their country's financial success.  I just happen to believe that the President is stomping on ants while getting overrun by elephants.

Jim Smith
Vero Beach, Florida

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Telecom giant, banks fall in line to back Arias shield plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The state banks and the national telecom company are falling in line to support the presidential initiatives announced Thursday.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said Monday that it would reduce the cost of public telephones 20 percent and double the speed of Internet connections without charging more.

The company said that the Internet change would be a $20 million benefit to small businesses and others among the 80,000 Internet users.

Pedro Pablo Quirós, the executive president of the telecom company that was once a state monopoly, said that public telephones would now cost eight colons a minutes. He said that such telephones are used by persons with low incomes.

The reduction does not include other land lines or cell service.

The decision on the telephone and the Internet came after Quirós met with President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who praised the move.

Casa Presidencial also announced that the Banco de Costa Rica not only will lower interest on existing loans by 2 percent, as the president asked Thursday, but it also would extend that benefit to new loans for small and medium enterprises. Banco Popular holds a board meeting on the
topic later this week, and Banco Nacional appears to have agreed to the president's plan in a board meeting last week.

It is unclear exactly what the Internet change will cost the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad, which has been having trouble with its international servers. The company was on the hot seat least week because it raised its rates without regulatory approval during an interval as the country changed over to another system of supervision. The company was told to revert to earlier rates, but it has not said that it would.

The Arias plan, which he said is a shield for the country against world economic problems is largely assuming new debt and tapping the government budget for more of various social programs.

A proposal to allow companies to set up work schedules that are more flexible has created a firestorm among union members. Arias said he would institute that plan by decree but he has not so far, The proposal would allow companies to set up work shifts of four days a week and of 10 to 12 hours a day. A large public employee union said that this erodes workers' rights.

Meanwhile, the Movimiento Libertario called the Arias plan timid.  Otto Guevara, party president, said that there were no efforts to cut down on government spending. Guevara also said in a release that the government had to reduce inflation and should eliminate burdensome paperwork procedures for businesses. He also called for a reduction in the import tax.


High court lets two men open homeopathic medical offices
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two practitioners of homeopathic medicine got constitutional court approval to open offices to the public. One will be in San Pedro, and one will be in Puriscal.

The Sala IV constitutional court found against the Ministerio de Salud, which declined to allow the two men to open offices. They were identified in the court decision released Monday as Félix Villegas Castro and Rodolfo Rojas Matus.

The court said that both men are members of the Colegio de Biólogos de Costa Rica, the professional group for biologists here. It also said that the two men have degrees
in homeopathic medicine that have been recognized by the Universidad de Costa Rica.

Both men are graduates of the University of Natural Medicine, which is recognized by the New Mexico department of education. They said they hold doctorates in natural medicine with an emphasis in homeopathia, according to the decision.

Physicians and surgeons in Costa Rica belong to a colegio of that name. That group does not admit practitioners of natural medicine. There is an effort in the legislature to create a separate colegio for this vocation. However, there are some who oppose this course because of the unscientific basis of natural medicine.


Dos Pinos again in trouble over outflow at El Coyol plant
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dos Pinos, the milk company, is in trouble with environmental inspectors again over discharges from its El Coyol plant.

The Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo said Monday that the company, formally Cooperativa de Productores de Leche Dos Pinos, had 10 days to present a remediation plan and 30 days to carry it out. If the company does not, the tribunal said it would shut down the firm's treatment plant, effectively closing the entire complex.

The tribunal said that the company is polluting the nearby Río Siquiares.

Last April the firm paid a $150,000 judgment. The plant came under suspicion in March, 2007, when dead fish began appearing in the river, along with bad smells.  Sampling of the water in June by the Ministerio de
Ambiente y Energía found that the plant was evacuating its waste waters into the river, including many oily and artificial substances, the tribunal said at the time.

Local communities in Ciruelas, Siquiares and Turrúcaras have complained of fetid smells, and inundations of mosquitoes and fly larvae. It was the Asociación Conservista de los Rios y el Ambiente de Ciruelas de Alajuela that sued Dos Pinos, and which received the money for investment in environmental works in the community.

The company agreed to submit to monitoring of the water, but the Laboratorio de Análisis Ambiental of the Escuela de Ciencias Ambientales of the Universidad Nacional found that the outflow did not meet standards again last October.

The Asociación Conservacionista de los Ríos y el Ambiente de Ciruelas de Alajuela and the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Ciruelas filed another complaint Nov. 7.

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Cuba and Venezuela are principal Latin emphases for Obama
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Experts on Latin America say the region is not likely to be a top priority for the Obama administration but the issues of Cuba and Venezuela could draw much of its attention. A group of Latin America experts met in Washington to discuss what policies President Barack Obama might pursue in the Americas. 

Experts say Cuba under President Raúl Castro and Venezuela under President Hugo Chávez will likely draw much of the Obama administration's attention in the hemisphere in coming months. 

President Obama promised during his campaign to ease restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba that were imposed by the Bush administration. Also, in his first days in office, Obama signed a decree to close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay within a year.

All this has prompted experts such as Dan Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue to speculate on possible talks between Obama and Castro.

"Raul Castro has said in several occasions that he would like to engage in a dialogue with the U.S. as long as it is without preconditions," Erikson said. "He actually suggested Guantanamo Bay as the location of the conversation between himself and Barack Obama."

U.S. policy toward Venezuela will be another top issue, and experts say much will depend on the world price of oil and the outcome of the Feb. 15 referendum in Venezuela to extend presidential terms.

David Meyers of Penn State University says President Chávez will emerge in a stronger position if the referendum passes and world oil prices start to go up. If not, Meyers says, Chávez might have to change.

"If Chavez loses the referendum and if oil prices stay down, then I think Chavez may be much more open to some sort of rapprochement [reconciliation], cautiously. We may see
the emergence of the democratic Chavez," he said.

Myers said a recent public opinion poll shows the Venezuelan leader has an approval rating of 57 percent, yet this does not mean the referendum will pass.

"If you did the referendum now would you vote to have Chavez re-elected indefinitely to change the constitution or would you oppose it? 38 per cent say they would vote to have him indefinitely and 52 percent say no," Myers said.

Some of the Latin American experts who met at the George Washington University also discussed how the Obama administration's handling of the U.S. economic slowdown will affect American policy toward the hemisphere. They say it could determine whether the United States keeps its markets open and allows investment capital to flow to Latin America. 

Jose Miguel Insulza, ssecretary general of the Organization of American States, told the gathering Washington should not just be interested in good relations with its neighbors but also in good trading.

"Latin America is, as a whole, a larger trading partner for the United States than the European Union. Mexico is the U.S.' second most important individual trading partner," Insulza said.
 
Cynthia McClintock is the director of the Latin American studies at George Washington University. She highlighted the feeling of optimism in the region toward the new Obama administration.

"I think there is a general sense that Latin America is not going to be his top priority and that is in part good," McClintock said. "Because things are going relatively well in Latin America compared to the Middle East."

The experts agreed that other issues like immigration, the free trade agreement with Panamá and Colombia, and the fight against drugs will probably take some more time to be redefined under the Obama administration.


Trick by coworkers appears to have required the use of an intoxicating plant
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some workers at the Cruz Roja in Escazú wanted to play a little joke last week on the supervisor there, so they got a little of the reina de la noche plant into the coffee.

This was bad news for the man with the name of Bermudez. The reina de la noche is the local name for angel's trumpet, a small tree of the family  Solanaceae.  The flowers are intoxicating in more ways then one. The smell is
intoxicating, but so is the flower and leaves.

The plant's leaves contain atropine, which can cause hallucinations and illness.

So the Cruz Roja in Escazú is under investigation to see what exactly happened and why the supervisor got sick.  This is the same plant that schoolboys sometimes try to use for the hallucinogenic effects, usually with serious stomach problems quickly developing.



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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.

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.

Searching
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.

Newspages
A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds
Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics
A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Robbers kill policeman
as he walks near home
 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers gunned down an off-duty police officer Sunday night while the man walked near his home in San Felipe de Alajuelita, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The man was identified as Alexis Mora Mora. He was assigned to the Moravia police station.  The bandits shot him in the stomach, and he died later in Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Mora was one of three persons killed Sunday. Meanwhile, the Cruz Roja came out with a report that said that 24 persons died from gunshots or knife wounds in January. That follows a report from the Judicial Investigating Organization that said murders in 2008 were 25 percent more than the year before.

Mora, 47, celebrated 18 years with the Fuerza Pública Sunday. He left work at 7 p.m. and was shot two hours later, the ministry said.

Also killed Sunday night was a man identified by the last name of Jiménez outside a bar in Limón, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was shot near Playa Bonita and died at Hospital Tony Facio. He was 25.

In Ipis de Goicoechea the body of a man identified by the last name of Artavia was found in a street with a fatal knife wound early Sunday.

Another man, identified by the last name of Artola, was reported in very grave condition with a bullet wound in the head, also at Hospital San Juan de Dios. He was wounded in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados early Monday. He is 23.
 
Japan provides ambulances

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Japan has given the Cruz Roja here $176,500 to purchase ambulances and a rescue unit for use in Guanacaste, the central Pacific and elsewhere in the country.

The Cruz Roja has been complaining that emergency calls frequently outpace the availability of ambulances. And some rural units have to travel a long way to bring patients into special care in San José.

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