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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 30            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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map of marinas
Country is facing an explosion of upscale marinas
Proposals for marinas are popping up all over both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Costa Rica could have 16 new marinas in several years' time, giving the country the potential to host around 5,000 boats.
For some, this scenario conjures up images of
high-quality tourism, economic boosts and new employment opportunities. For others, destroyed marine life, ravaged natural shorelines and out-of-control development come to mind. For a detailed summary, see  HERE!

La Niña expected to strengthen and continue through middle of year
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The current La Niña weather pattern is expected to strengthen and continue through the middle of the year, bringing wetter conditions to Australia and the western Pacific and a drier climate to the Americas, the United Nations World Meteorological Agency reported Monday.

In its latest forecast, the agency said that the latest La Niña — which began in the third quarter of 2007 — has picked up strength in the past three months, with sea surface temperatures now about 1.5 to 2 degrees C. (nearly 3 to 5 degrees F.) colder than average over large parts of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean.

“This La Niña is in the mid-range of past historically recorded events, but the slight further cooling in recent months will likely place it on the
stronger side of the middle range,” the agency said.
During a La Niña pattern, the cooler sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific shapes weather conditions across much of the world: heavy rain and thunderstorms, for example, become much more frequent in the western Pacific.

It is the opposite of the El Niño phenomenon, which is considered to have ended its current cycle last year.

The agency noted that La Niña has already begun influencing climate patterns over the last six months in the Equatorial Pacific and across the Indian Ocean, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The metoerological agency said it was rare for a La Niña event to continue for two years or more, although this did occur from early 1998 to early 2000. The most likely current scenario is that neither La Niña nor El Niño will prevail from the latter stages of this year.

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What does a nation do
with an unpopular leader?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What does the nation do with an unpopular president who has led citizens into an unpopular war, provoked riots and generated vicious criticism throughout the land, as troops died in what appeared to be a never ending war?

He was elected with less than a majority vote of the people.  He abrogated the U.S. Constitution, allowed his generals to trample the Bill of Rights when fighting enemies of the administration. And sometimes he alone seems to be deep in depression and out of step with the thoughts of his citizens.

Well, the answer is that the nation makes a national holiday over his birthday.

The president is not George Bush, although many of the comments apply to the current president. The president is Abraham Lincoln whose policy problems were much closer to home.

Today is his birthday, but the celebration of President's Day has been moved to create another of those three-day weekends in the United States. It is next Monday this year.

Lincoln would rank first or second in anyone's list of U.S. presidents, but when he was in office he was the object of fierce criticism. Much of the criticism came from northern Democrats — known as Copperheads —  who opposed the war and blamed the conflict on abolitionist Republicans.

Lincoln's generals frequently closed down newspapers in Ohio and Illinois that were critical of the administration. The area was under martial law. Lincoln, himself, suspended habeas corpus and imprisoned many without trial. Then there was the matter of the draft that generated great unrest, particularly in the Irish settlements in New York.

Southerners, of course, hated Lincoln enough to assassinate him. It has been the judgment of history that enshrined him for his liberation of the slaves and the war that kept the Union together.

Few of his contemporaries would have guessed at this result. And, if anything, Lincoln demonstrates that short-term judgments frequently are out of step with historical assessments.

Body of one missing brother
turned up in Los Anonos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials found the body of an 11-year-old boy caught on a rock in the Río Tiribí in Los Anonos de Escazú Monday. He was one of two young brothers for whom police have been searching since Friday, said officials.

Officials from the Unidad de Desaparecidos found 11-year-old Jeíson Arias Hidalgo in Los Anonos, they said. His body was identified by family members by the clothes he was wearing, said officials from the Judicial Investigation Organization.

The two brothers, 11 and 15, left their home in Las Bellotas in Alajuelita Friday morning, said officials. “They went to play near the house. One was wearing his soccer uniform to go play ball,” said René Cordero Chavarría of the Fuerza Pública in Alajuelita. At 5 a.m. today, officials will begin to comb the area in search of the second brother, Miguel Garbanzo Hidalgo, said Cordero.

Youth, fisherman, tourist
victims in other drownings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17-year-old died in a drowning as he was swimming in a pond on the Osa Peninsula Monday, said officials.

The youth, Alexander Mendoza Jíménez, was having fun with some friends in a pond of Fío El Progreso de Drake, when he could not get out, said officials.

Officials said friends tried to help Mendoza, but to no avail.

Mendoza's death came just hours after a man fishing for shrimp died in San Carlos, said officials. The victim, Alcides Varela Bermúdez, 37, drowned in Canelete de Upala.

In another incident, a man from the United States drowned while swimming off a beach in Limón Thursday afternoon, said officials. The man, Marcos Mar, was on vacation in the country, said an official. He was swimming off Playa Negra beach and was caught by an ocean current, said Jaime Ortíz of the Fuerza Pública in Cahuita.  

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Explosion of marinas could make country a haven for yachts
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican tourism industry is beginning to realize that there is something missing on the country's coasts.

Although Costa Rica boasts beautiful beaches, natural ports and diverse marine life, only around 400 yachts can bring in high-end tourists at one time, as there are few functioning marinas that provide the facilities to which they are accustomed.

But that is now changing, and proposals for marinas are popping up all over both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Costa Rica could have 16 new marinas in several years' time, giving the country the potential to host around 5,000 boats.

For some, this scenario conjures up images of high-quality tourism, economic boosts and new employment opportunities. For others it means destroyed marine life, ravaged natural shorelines and out-of-control development.

The lack of examples in Costa Rica makes it difficult to predict what effect a boom in marina construction might have, but for now the government office Comisión Interinstitucional de Marinas y Atracaderos Turísticos is looking positively at many of the proposals.

“It's difficult to be sure of the economic impact,” said Oscar Villalobos, technical secretary of the marina commission. “The marina law of 1997 envisions that the investments will increase economic activity within these regions. Also, we don't want these to be Miami-style marinas. We want marinas that won't affect the aesthetic of our natural, beautiful coastline too greatly. There are many considerations, and we are now trying to understand what the consequences might be.”

Today's coastline has just one marina that holds the correct paperwork to operate legally. Los Sueños near Jacó, which started operating as a marina in 2001, is Costa Rica's only marina with a concession from the marina commission.

With a 200-boat capacity, Los Sueños is by far the largest docking facility in Costa Rica. This marina alone is said to employ around 3,000 people through direct and indirect sources.

“With Los Sueños nearby, Jacó is developing more and more all the time,” said Villalobos. “But it is not a great example because it is a closed marina. Those under construction in Papagayo and Quepos will be more open, allowing land-based tourists and Costa Ricans to go there to spend the day, enjoying good restaurants and commercial centers.”

With three more marinas already under construction and another 13 in various stages of approval, questions have been raised about whether enthusiasm among the (mostly American) developers has become too great, and if Costa Rica can support such a vast number of marina businesses.

Ashley Bretsecher, executive director of marketing and communications at Los Sueños Marina, said that business in Costa Rica's only marina is consistently excellent. “We're running on 100 percent capacity and have been for two years now,” said Ms. Bretsecher. “The economic problems in the United States are not affecting us, but it may affect the Latin American market in the future. Whether Costa Rica can maintain so many marinas depends on the international market at that time.”

Villalobos agreed that bleak outlooks on the future of luxury tourism may be too hasty.

“Sources in the United States say that there is still a lot of embarkation and that people are looking for new destinations,” he said. “Costa Rica is a good place for them to choose. The only reason more people don't come now is because there are not enough decent facilities for them to dock in.

“People we have interviewed about the economic problems of the States say that they are mainly affecting the poorer classes, so luxury tourism may not see such a blow.

“Having said that, the Golfito marina that is under construction has been trying to sell its prospective places for several years, and they have reported a drop-off in interest over the last few months.”

The three marinas already mentioned that are on their way to completion are set to premiere their facilities in 2009. The Pez Vela Marina in Quepos represents a $16 million investment into the Pacific coast town and will have 196 slips.

Those on the Papagayo Peninsula in northern Guanacaste are also watching the growth of a marina – this one a $15 million project at which 372 boats can dock. The project is being constructed on Playa Manzanillo, which last week lost its blue flag certification due to the polluting activities of a beachfront hotel, the Hotel Allegro Papagayo. This has not discouraged the luxury development, which will include gyms, tennis clubs, spa pools, exclusive restaurants and a waterfront village.

By far the biggest investment so far has been made in the Golfito marina, also called Marina Bahía Escondida, which will cost $55 million for a 216-slip facility.

Since December 1997, all marinas have been required to possess a concession issued by the local municipality and an initial site approval by the marina commission.

This involves a process of surveys and studies of waves, winds, environmental impact and depth to show that the project is viable. It is then up to the municipality to decide which business will be granted the concession.

Technically, any previously existing marina is required to obtain a concession or face closure. The only marina that has so far suffered this penalty is Flamingo Marina.

Construction started on Flamingo Marina in 1990, making it Costa Rica's first marina, but it was plagued by trouble from the start. It was finally forced to close in 2003 after owner Jim McKee was evicted.

After citing environmental concerns over the marina's sewage disposal and fuel handling, officials tried to close the marina due to the fact that the owners had not
boats in tropics
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Country could become a magnet for boaters if plans for most of the marinas are realized.

completed all the studies and paperwork necessary to operate the marina legally.

Five years of closure later, the marina is once again in the bidding process, with four companies left in the competition to win the marina concession. These are Desarrollo de Marina de Matapalo Demm S.A.,which proposes the biggest investment at $90 million and the most slips at 424; Willily Ocean View S.A., the same company that is developing the Golfito Bahía Escondida marina; Inversiones Rigilcom S.A. and Tamarindo Lifestyle S.A. Whatever firm wins the concession will have to present a pre-project plan to the marina commission before going ahead with construction.

Other marinas that existed before 1997 have become lodged in a drawn-out bureaucratic process but are still operating. These include Puntarenas' Costa Rica Yacht Club, which currently comes in a close second to Los Sueños with a 120-boat capacity. It is having trouble securing the correct paperwork from the marina commission due to problems with the plan regulador of the area.

Banana Bay Marina in Golfito, which has been open for about 18 years and has capacity for just 16 yachts, is struggling through the bureaucratic process because of unclear land ownership rights in the Golfito area. Smaller docks are sprinkled around Golfito, but most are not required to secure a marina concession as they are too small to be considered marinas.

Even after concessions have been authorized, the step up to construction can be a slow process. A concession was granted for a marina in Playa Naranjo, also in Guanacaste, a few years ago. Marina Guaitil was planned to hold 360 boats with an investment of over $4 million, but no further plans for construction have been submitted to the commission.

A similar situation ensued with the Puertocito Marina, in Puertocito de Osa. Although the pre-project was approved and the municipality is dealing with the concession, little progress has been made over the 35-slip marina for several years. Villalobos has expressed doubts that these two marinas will come to fruition.

Up to 600 yachts will be able to dock in Playas del Coco alone, if two proposed marina projects are approved. A pre-project report has been submitted to the marina commission for Marina Punta Cacique, while a similar report is in the process of being put together for Marina Punta Sol.

Also awaiting approval of a pre-project report is Marina Carara Bay, Punta Leona, just up the road from Marina Los Sueños. It has a capacity of 260 boats and an almost $10 million investment. Residential properties with slips attached are already being promoted over the Internet.

The same stage has been reached by Marina Punta Piedra Amarilla, set for construction in the south sector, Bahia Ballena, and Marina Bahia Cocodrillo, a 257-slip facility proposed for Puerto Jiménez.

The first consultation for Marina Bahía, in Playa Panama de Sardinal, Guanacaste, has been finished, and further plans are expected for the 200-slip project.

Two other marinas have been proposed, but have run into problems with the plan regulador after finishing first consultations. These are Marina Portal del Mar, a 275-boat facility proposed for central Puntarenas around the Tivives area, and Marina Moín, one of the two marinas proposed for the Caribbean coast. Marina Moín, situated just north of Puerto Limón, must fight bureaucratic difficulties, but it is deemed likely that the 300-slip marina will come to fruition.

Further down the Caribbean coast, Marina Ecologica New World, proposed for Puerto Viejo, has encountered greater problems due to local opposition. Plans propose one of the most ambitious projects of the bunch, at a huge 398-slip capacity. Locals oppose the marina as it would be situated very close to two national parks and also to prime surfing spots.

Local opposition has also slowed down the pace of Marina Puerto Carrillo, which was proposed for a more isolated spot on the Guanacaste coast, namely Playa Carrillo de Hojancha. The community fears that the area is not prepared for a tourist marina with a 180-boat capacity, saying that it could lead to social development problems and shortages of potable water.

Villalobos encourages people to look at the explosion of interest in marinas as a long-term thing with each marina taking at least six years to accomplish.

“It's not like next year we'll have 20 new marinas, and it'll be like: 'What happened?'” said Villalobos. “This is a slow process.”

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Opponents of trade treaty continue their vigil at legislature
By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-free trade demonstrators held tika torches and candles as they protested outside of the legislature Monday evening. The usual student protesters and Partido Acción Ciudadana members were joined by Evance Marín, 33, a man clubbed by police officials at a small protest last Tuesday, according to video footage.

Demonstrators held a sign in the afternoon saying “Democracy died in this town because of police aggression.” Fuerza Pública officers closed Avenida Central as protesters gathered in the street. 

María Vargas of Costa Rica en Acción, said people were angry about the violent actions of police officers but that wasn't the primary reason for Monday's protests. “Regardless of what happened, a resistance movement has been created and there is no turning back,” said Ms. Vargas.

Marín said he received 14 stitches in his lip after being hit by a Fuerza Pública officer last week. Marín bowed his head and waited until no police officers were in sight before recounting the event. “I was in the direct center of the boulevard” he said, “I was recording with my video camera, and an officer came up to me and said I was acting like a clown.” Marín said that the police officer began to hit him although he had done nothing wrong.

Legislature security video itself shows an officer approach Marín and the two speak briefly. The exchange is impossible to discern as there is no sound on the recording. Marín then walks past the officer and his female partner. The male officer pushes him twice from the side and then hits him twice on the back of the neck using his baton. Marín walks over to the other side of the boulevard and hunches over against a fence. The male officer then follows Marín and proceeds to hit him numerous times in the face, while he is still on the ground.

Ms. Vargas and many of the anti-free trade protesters say there was fraud on referendum day Oct. 7 and are determined to prove it. “I've never seen a Nobel Prize
famous lip
A.M. Costa Rica/Anne Clark
Evance Marín displays the lip in which he said he needed 14 stiches after being hit by a policeman.

winner act like this,” said Ms. Vargas referring to President Óscar Arias Sánchez. “The Costa Rican people are late to react, but they do react,” said Ms. Vargas. She said the anti-free trade movement is gaining force and she expects a real reaction by 2010.

Although demonstrators said that hundreds had attended the event in front of the legislature Monday, reporters counted no more than about 40 during the day and in the evening.

Inside the legislative chambers lawmakers were acting on proposed amendments to the telecommunications bill that is part of the implementation agenda for the free trade agreement.

Robbery suspects get the benefit of the doubt from a judge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A band of six robbers targeted two engineers, both foreigners involved in a power generation project, in San Carlos. The bandits jumped the pair when they left a hotel and managed to get away with some $3,500.

This happened Wednesday, and the Fuerza Pública mounted a successful sweep in a few minutes.  Two suspects fell into police hands and were identified by the victims, 46 and 51, police said at the time.

The victims were from eastern Europe and were working on the Cariblanco project of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Later Wednesday police picked up a third suspect as he was boarding a San José-bound bus. Eventually a fourth man was detained.

The prosecutor in San Carlos presented the case of the four robbery suspects to a judge and sought preventative detention, particularly since at least two robbers were on the loose. The judge, however, denied the request and ordered less severe restrictions on the robbery suspects.
They had to sign in with the prosecutor once every 15 days, maintain a fixed home and promise not to approach the victims.

The prosecutor's office decided to appeal these restrictions, and the court in San Carlos Monday ordered that the men should be held for investigation for three months.

Except that police cannot find the men. They are listed as fugitives and the case has been turned over to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

In another case involving the home invasions of a wealthy family in Paraíso de Cartago, agents last week conducted raids and detained three men they identified as violent, heavily armed robbers. However, a judge declined to order pre-trial detention in this case, too.

The judge ruled that the victims could not adequately identify the suspects even though much of the loot taken in the crime had been found in their possession. The victims could not identify them because they wore ski masks when they burst into the home Dec. 12, tied up a guard and the occupants and made off with 120 million colons (about $240,000) in goods and money, plus two vehicles.

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