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(506) 223-1327            Published Monday, Feb. 19, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 35             E-mail us    
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Online money transfers here now well worth doing
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Electronic banking in Costa Rica has grown up.  It is now easy, fast and efficient.

Transfers from Interfin last week to the national banks, Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica and Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago, worked without a hitch.  Transfers from the Banco de Costa Rica to the private banks Interfin, Banco San José, Scotia Bank, and Cuscatlan worked just as flawlessly.  All banks in Costa Rica are currently interconnected.  Transfers can be made in either U. S. dollars or Costa Rican colons.

The Central Bank of Costa Rica moved its inter-bank payments and transaction system called the Sistema Interbancario de Negociación y Pagos Electrónicos to Microsoft’s .NET technologies at the end of 2002.  Carlos Arraya, the CEO of ArtinSoft, a Costa Rican company, worked closely with Microsoft to migrate and improve the system over the past five years.   The ArtinSoft founder and CEO was chosen as one of the most successful and respected executives in Central America by SUMMA Magazine in June 2006 for his work on this and other projects.

Making a transfer is easy.  However, the various banks use different terminology to refer to the electronic transfers. And you have to know and use a 17-digit number for the receiving account.

Interfin, a private bank, uses TEF, short for “Transferencia Electrónica de Fondos.”   It is located under the Inter-Sinpe section of the menu that is located on the left hand side of the screen on Interfin’s Inter-Banca Web site.

At the Banco de Costa Rica, a national bank, they use “Transfer.SINPE” to refer to the inter-bank transfers.  Currently, they have a flashing “nuevo” symbol next to the menu item located on the left of their “Oficina Virtual” Web site.

The Banco Nacional, a national bank used by many in Costa Rica because the bank has locations everywhere, even in the smallest towns, has the transfer system located under the menu item “Transferencias” sub-menu “Otros bancos en CR” on their “Internet Personal” Web site.

The Banco de San José calls their system “Cheque Electrónico.” To use it one needs to read a bunch of extraneous material and sign up for the service.  The Banco de San José has adopted a system of “making things that are very simple extremely complex” along with governmental institutions in Costa Rica.  To coax people to use the system, they are offering it free until March 31.  This fact is found in very minute print on one of the information pages.

The system is fast.  All transfers made took less than one hour to reach their destinations.   The system can also work in real-time or overnight versus same day.  Same day transactions are what are available on most banks Web sites.  Calling the financial instructions regarding the other options met with “phone void,” meaning the person on the other end of the line did not know what to answer, so they  became verbally paralyzed, a common occurrence in Costa Rica.

The inter-bank system works in theory from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. However, each bank has its own hours ranging from starting at 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. ending at 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The system is efficient.  Prices to use the electronic transfer system vary widely.  Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago charges as much as U.S. $20 for a transfer while the Banco Nacional charges U.S. $2.

Is it worth the money?  Yes, it is!

Cost of a same-day online transfer
Name of bank
in U.S. dollars
Banco Nacional
Banco de Costa Rica
Banco Credito
Banco Banex
Banco Interfin
Banco BCT
Banco Lafise
Banco Citibank
Banco Promérica
Banco Cuscatlán
Banco Improsa
Banco Uno
Scotia Bank
Banco de San José
source: http://www.bccr.fi.cr/sinpetarifas.html

Consider sending U.S. $1,000 from an Interfin account to a vendor's account at the Banco Nacional.  With the Sistema Interbancario de Negociación y Pagos Electrónicos the transfer will cost $5 and take less than an hour.

The alternative is to send a messenger or go in person to Interfin, wait for a teller if there is a line, cash a check, carry the cash through the dangerous streets to a Banco Nacional office, wait in another line for a teller and deposit the money in the vendor's account.  From a cost-benefit point of view, $5 is cheap, compared to spending a bunch of time in lines and risk being robbed or worse.

Costa Rica’s inter-bank transfer system is not new, but now it is working and working great. The system is worth a test drive.  Soon the system will work throughout Central America and all over the world.  Some banks, like Interfin, the Banco de San José and others have regional and international systems in place online today.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at crlaw@licgarro.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info.  Copyright 2004-2007, use without permission prohibited.

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Matching funds donation
to target park deforestation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Walter Pereyra, founder of the Wally Pereyra Charitable Fund, said his organization will match donations to stop deforestation of the Parque Nacional Manual Antonio up to $50,000.  The money is being donated to The Fund for Costa Rica, a biodiversity conservation group that has a habitat reconstruction project in the park.

Pereyra, president and founder of the donor organization, said that there is a need for authorities to take action about the illegal deforestation in the Manual Antonio park.  The organizations said that donation reflects just how serious the logging problems are in the tourist area.

Matthew Cook, director of The Fund for Costa Rica, said that the deforestation is causing the extinction of local fauna, such as the red-backed squirrel monkey (here known as the mono tití, Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus).  He also said forest is illegally being cut down to make way for trophy homes and condos, and that if the trend continues its going to kill Costa Rica's tourism industry. 

Cook said the money will assist in expanding the patrolled area of the park, and that the organization is hiring its own legal defense to demand consequences for the people, government officials, and companies that are involved in illegal deforestation in the area.  He said that the matching grant from Pereyra is added motivation for property, hotel, and business owners to donate money and put a stop to illegal land development once and for all.  The Fund for Costa Rica's Web site said that one in four tourists to Costa Rica visit Manuel Antonio park making it one of the most visited national parks in the world.  

More information on the The Fund for Costa Rica, as well as environmental and sustainable tourism, is available on a Web site at www.fundforcostarica.org.

Drug crimes biggest reason
for arrests in Puntarenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Psychotropic drug use was the most common crime at this year's Carnavales de Puntarenas.  Of the 68 persons apprehended by police officers during the nine-day festival, 40 were breaking Costa Rican drug laws, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The Fuerza Pública confiscated 288 hits of crack, 78 doses of cocaine, 10 pills of ecstasy, as well as 32 grams, 8 joints and 227 roaches of marijuana, said officials.  

Other arrests were made for crimes against police officers, personal property, a life threatening act and sexual misconduct, said a government release.  Officers also said they confiscated 11 knives and two firearms.

The security ministry said that police presence was increased at this years carnival.  Mario Calderón, regional director of Fuerza Pública in Puntarenas, said that police collaborated with the Policía Turística (tourist police) and the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas (coast guards) in order to ensure public safety.

The annual festival came to an end Sunday after numerous night of fireworks, dances, concerts and carnival games.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 35  

Immigration seeking six foreigners who paid for fake visas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials are looking for six persons whose passports ended up in the hands of a border official when he was detained by Nicaraguan police Friday.

The border official, a 25-year veteran of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, was suspended because officials allege that he was faking entry and exit stamps on the passports of foreigners. The reason may have been so they could retain their tourist status.

Also affected are any perpetual tourists who have used such services on a regular basis to validate their stay here as tourists. Under Costa Rican law, tourists may only stay in the country for 90 days. Those who are unable or will not seek a more permanent status in the country frequently make trips outside the country every 90 days.

An undetermined number never leave and rely on corrupt officials to validate their passports anyway.

The man who was detained has the last names of Fuentes Navarro. He has worked for years at the Peñas Blancas border crossing. He was detained by Nicaraguan police at that country's immigration offices at Sapoá where he was seeking someone to place Nicaraguan stamps in the six passports. Costa Rican stamps in the passports purported to show that the bearers had left the country Feb. 13.
Although officials have the immigration officer, they are awaiting the arrival of the six falsified passports. Two belong to two Italians, two U.S. citizens, a Spanish citizen and a person from Argentina, said officials.

Francisco Castaing, chief of the Policía de Migración in Costa Rica, said that the next step was to locate the six individuals and prepare them for deportation.

Fuentes Navarro collected between $500 and $600 for each passport that was doctored, officials said. In addition to Castaing, the officials included Fernando Berrocal, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, and Ana Durán  Salvatierra, a vice minister in the same ministry. They spoke with reporters Friday.

Fuentes Navarro will be questioned in Liberia.

Castaing said that another reason to falsify entries in passports is to fool officials. Essentially the passport shows that someone was somewhere when they really were not. He said that fugitives sometimes do this to throw investigators off their trail.

An undertermined number of persons here as perpetual tourists cannot seek a more permanent status because they are fugitives from justice in other countries or because they have a record of serious criminal violations that preclude them from seeking residency.

Villalobos defense gets its chance to ask questions of experts
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

Defense cross-examination of the prosecution’s investigators got under way Friday at the Oswaldo Villalobos trial after four days of testimony detailing a two-year study of the Ofinter S.A. exchange house and the adjacent high-interest investment operation.

First prosecution lawyers Walter Espinoza and Eduardo Blanco asked for clarification of a few points. Lead investigator Manuel Roldán elaborated on his opinion that the high spending and poor control over expenses seen in the confiscated documents of the Villalobos operations would make stability difficult for a serious business.

The defense’s lead attorney, Federico Campos, questioned Roldán and his assistant, Elisabeth Flores, about their credentials, and then attacked Roldán’s contention that there is no legitimate business that can be so profitable it could pay the “onerous” 36 percent interest rates the Villalobos operation did. He noted that credit card companies charge as much as 50 percent interest. Roldán replied that those operations have high costs in defaults and administration and don’t have profits that high.

The large number of companies with many bank accounts attracts suspicion. An incorporated entity should have a commercial use, said Roldán. He allowed that the Villalobos did have legitimate businesses, including a supermarket, a helicopter company, and orange groves. He said no indicator of money laundering by itself is conclusive, adding:

“One by itself means nothing, two either, but 14 or 16 within a context becomes suspicious.”
Campos wanted to know if the numerous companies helped avoid “putting all the eggs in one basket.” Actually, the only basket the Villalobos brothers used was the local bursatil, Roldán said.

The more serious charge of laundering drug money relates to the late Canadian Bertrand St. Onge and some associates who later admitted drug related charges in that country.

Campos wanted to know why only $16,500 is on the records from St. Onge when other reports had it as much as $300,000.

Roldán stated he could not connect that $16,500 directly to drug sales or any action by Oswaldo Villalobos. At the very least Ofinter was not fulfilling its obligation to “know your client” according to Central Bank policy, he said.

Presiding Judge Isabel Porras wanted to know if the deposit was in cash or by check. Eventually it was established as cash, with only one interest payment located.

Oswaldo Villalobos looks in better spirits than at the start of the trial, and said he feels well. “Now we can talk back,” he said. Villalobos was detained in late 2002 and spent time in prison and in a hospital under guard.

The attorney for some seeking civil damages in the case, Ewald Acuña, was not present for the second week of the trial. His place has been taken by Blanco. Blanco would not comment on his relationship with Acuña or his clients, referring questions to Acuña himself.

The trial continues today with a change of venue, to Sala 3 of the Tribunales building. That is the westernmost of the three main court buildings of the San Jose complex.

A 19th century characterization becomes a common term
Vieja de patio
“Old lady of the courtyard.” This dicho is about gossip, and it is reminiscent of the time when elderly ladies used to exchange the latest neighborhood tattle while doing laundry or other chores in the courtyard of a large house.
In the early to mid-19th century, shortly after independence was granted from Spain, many countries in Latin America experienced a huge influx of European immigrants. Costa Rica was no exception. Often these newcomers had very little money, and the best lodgings they could afford would be a single room in a large colonial house known as an albergue.

These houses were usually two to three stories high and built around a central courtyard or patio. This patio provided an area in which the diverse residents of the albergue could socialize, chat and, ­human nature being what it is, ­indulge in the latest local gossip. This is the origin of today’s dicho. Thus, a gossipy woman to this day is known as a vieja de patio.
It seems that every barrio in Costa Rica has its vieja de patio. She’s the one who knows everything about everyone in the neighborhood and tells it to everybody whether they’re interested or not.  In Costa Rica we also use the word vina, which is pure dialect, to identify this kind of busybody. Vina was the pseudonym used by a famous Costa Rican radio personality of years gone by who just happened to have been a cousin of my father. This stage name stuck in the public mind and came to be synonymous with vieja de patio here in Tiquicia.
I have written about Vina before, but for those of you who do not remember her, the show was about a vieja de patio who telephoned everyone she knew just before lunchtime so she would be sure to find them at home to viniar, or share all the latest juicy rumors.
The dialogue (or monologue, as it were) went something like this:

“Oh, hello, Maria? Is that you?” Hi! How are you? This is Vina. I’m just calling because last night I went to the

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

ballet at the National Theater and ran into your husband, but you were not with him. ­

"What was that dear? You didn’t know? Hmm! Well, he was there with his niece, at least I assumed she was his niece.

"What was that? Oh, very young and blond.

"Oh, he doesn’t have a blond niece you say. Well, I wonder.

"What’s that you say? He’s moved out of the house! Oh, my. Well the nerve of him to be seen in public with a little tart half his age! This is just terrible!”

And blah, blah, blah and on and on she’d prattle.
Of course she knew all along that her poor friend had been separated from her faithless husband, and she also knew that her tattle would upset the woman no end. But la vieja de patio seems to relish tormenting other people in this way.
Though my father’s cousin was very successful at making a comic figure out of the vieja de patio, they are usually quite horrible people who often do quite intentional damage to perfectly innocent people. So, by whatever name they may be known a gossip is really not a very nice thing to be.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 35  

Ricky Martin bringing along his anti-trafficking campaign
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and pop singer Ricky Martin are meeting in the Casa Presidencial Tuesday in an attempt to bring attention to the problem of human trafficking throughout Latin America.

The Latin America campaign against human trafficking, known as "Llama y Vive," (call and live) has already been launched in Peru, Nicaragua, and Equador.  Part of the campaign is attempting to get human trafficking victims or those with any information to contact authorities and file complaints against those involved, said a release from the Casa Presidencial.
Organizations involved include the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, the Organización Internacional de las Migraciones, and the  Ricky Martin Foundation.

The event is set to begin at 3 p.m. in the Salón Multiusos de la Casa Presidencial.  The 141 children of the Orquesta Sinfónica Infantil will perform for Arias and Martin, said the Casa Pesidencial. 

The Puerto Rican singer was voted the 2006 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year and released his latest album in November.  He is scheduled to perform in San José later Tuesday night.

Major title insurance and escrow firm opening its doors here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

LandAmerica Financial Group, Inc., a Big Board listed real estate services company, will be providing title, escrow, and other transaction services to buyers, sellers, developers, and lenders in Central America through LandAmerica Commonwealth Title of Central America, a subsidiary.

The firm has opened an office in Liberia, Guanacaste, that covers Costa Rica, Panamá, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador, the firm said.

The company services both residential and commercial customers with more than 1,000 offices and a network of 10,000 active agents throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, said a company release.  The real estate group is also recognized on Fortune magazine's 2006 list of America's most admired companies and is ranked as a Fortune 500 and Forbes Platinum 400 company, said the release.

"Central America is quickly becoming the first choice for 
retired North Americans looking for warm weather and real estate value," said Karla Amador, manager of LandAmerica Commonwealth Title of Central America.

"We provide our residential and commercial customers in Central America with the same level of superior service that they are used to receiving in the U.S," she said.

Amador reports that North American buyers, sellers, developers, and lenders appreciate having their real estate transactions in the region handled by a company with LandAmerica's reputation for personal attention to detail and financial strength.

Titleinsurance guarantees the validity of real estate titles and the issuer usually agrees to compensate buyers and lenders if their interests are jeopardized.

Title insurance is typical in North America and is not covered by the Costa Rican government's insurance monopoly here and there are several firms already in the market.

Salmonella scare provides a good reason to lay off the peanut butter for awhile
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is probably a good week to give up that peanut butter habit, at least for awhile. And at least the Peter Pan brand.

ConAgra Foods says that certain lots of Peter Pan and Great Valley peanut butter are being recalled as a precautionary measure. In the United States the company has authorized a refund program for retailers.

Jars with the product code on the lid of 2111 have turned up in Costa Rica, according to readers and postings on Internet discussion groups, but there is no organized response here as yet. The suspect peanut butter was made in Sylvester, Georgia.

ConAgra said that the peanut butter may be linked to the
foodborne illness salmonella but none has been found in extensive testing.

Corporación Wal-Mart which operates a number of major supermarkets in Costa Rica is expected to announce some form of recall options today.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the peanut butter had been linked to the salmonella in 38 states and involving at least 300 persons. Salmonella poisoning is more usually linked to poorly prepared poultry. It causes  diarrhea, fever and infrequent deaths in humans.

Expats are probably the biggest market for peanut butter here, and the product is known to move slowly through the supply chain. So precautions should be taken for months.

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Costa Rican national team takes Copa de Naciones crown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica defeated Panamá in dramatic 4–1 shoot out Sunday to claim the team's sixth Copa de Naciones de la Unión Centroaméricana de Futbol.

The tournament is one of the most important soccer championships in Central America, and Costa Rica has now taken the title three consecutive years.

The team fell behind in the first half after Panamanian player Luis Tejada scored in the 37th minute of play.  The Costa Ricans, lead by rookie national coach Hernán  Medford, managed to struggle through the poorly played
first half with giving up just the one goal.

The second half was controlled for the most part by the Ticos, but it wasn't until the 86th minute that Kurt Bernard was able to score his team's first goal of the game and force the match to shootouts.

The Costa Rican goal tender gave his team the advantage by stopping the first two of the close range penalty shots.  Walter Centeno, Rolando Fonseca, Carlos Hernández and Michael Barrantes all scored on their opportunities for the Costa Rican team, winning them the championship and defeating the Panamanian team for the first time in the tournament.

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