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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 21, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 36
Jo Stuart
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Please don't die before reading this article
By Garland M. Baker 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Today could be your last day. The end could come fast, a collision with a bus or a whack from a coconut from a palm tree. 

What happens then to all those assets accumulated in Costa Rica? 

If the assets are in a personal name . . . ouch! The process is going to be difficult for heirs. Probate in Costa Rica is a long and tedious process involving a court case, which means finding a lawyer one can trust with tenacity to stay on top of the process. How do heirs know if an attorney is a lazy lawyer who will just exacerbate their situation?

Heirs also need to understand what is going on. This is the hard part, beginning with the different types of probate. Sucesorio is the word for probate here. Translated into euphemistic English, it means "a big headache."

A very serious concern that most people do not know about is there are "gavilanes" or vultures reading obituaries and cross-referencing the information with the Registro National to see if a deceased person owns a property. Those assets are the best to steal by notary fraud. How does a dead person sue a thief? Yes, heirs can sue, but the burden of proof is so great the process becomes almost impossible.

This has happened to many Costa Ricans. The national registry now makes a check to see if the person transferring a property is dead or alive, but this process does not work for foreigners because the national registry computers are set up for Costa Rican identification numbers and no others.

A crook can actually move a property faster than one can do it legally without worrying much about conviction. Suing the notary responsible for the transfer can even be harder.

During the probate process, heirs sit on pins and needles, never knowing whether assets will be lost to the unscrupulous. Once a property moves illegally to another person, the law is unclear who is protected. 

There are three basic probate processes in Costa Rica: A "sucesorio judicial" or court probate, a "sucesorio notarial" or a probate performed by a notary without the normal court process and a "fidecomiso testamentario" or the execution of an existing last will and testament trust. 

"Sucesorio judicials" are the norm, take time, and are processed by a slow court system through a type of lawsuit.

"Sucesorio notarials" are rare, only used in certain circumstances when no one is fighting over assets and all beneficiaries are of legal age. The professional liability for an attorney and notary is enormous in using a sucesorio notarial. Documents need to be perfectly prepared.

"Fidecomiso testamentario" are the easiest to execute but assume that an existing last and will testament trust is in order.

No one thinks about walking around a corner and into a bus their name on it, but today would be a good time to consider the possibility.

Some people insist on having property registered in their personal name. If this is the case, think about the possibility of using a usufruct right to protect loved ones, referred to as a "rights of survivorship" benefit. 

This provides the ability to transfer a property to others, reserving the usufruct right so they cannot use the property until one’s death.

Using legal structures like limited companies and trusts are much better. Simple but effective succession plans written into a limited company structure work well. However, trusts provide more comprehensive succession structure with tax savings benefits to beneficiaries.

If a person dies with no plan, the law decides the beneficiaries. First line heirs with equal rights are parents, spouse and all children. When there are no heirs found in Costa Rica, the government could take everything.

A good will still needs a succession plan, meaning the ways and means to execute the will without difficulty. The choices to organize ones demise is not the hard part. Making the decision to do so and stop putting it off until tomorrow is.

Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community. Reach him at Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Allan Garro provides the legal review. Reach him at

Copyright 2005 A.M. Costa Rica
Use without permission prohibited.

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Registro power outage puts
legal documents off limits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A massive computer failure knocked out the system by which Costa Ricans register property, vehicles and other important papers.

The Registro Nacional in Zapote was out of service much of Thursday until Friday afternoon. The outage was blamed on an electrical failure, but revealed the fact that the national registry has no effective backup system for the many documents entrusted to it.

Registry officials said that a transformer that flattens out peaks and valleys in the electrical current failed. In response, the registry shut down its windows and declined to service customers who had come for various legal reasons.

Nearly all of the registry’s information is on the computer system.

Registry officials also did not announce that the system had failed and the registry system was not working. Consequently, those who wished to file a document or obtain copies continued to come, some from some distance.

Pacheco says he wants
to cut official red tape

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco promised to improve the business climate in the country and listed 13 improvements he has or would make.

However, the president’s words, part of his weekend speech, also served to spotlight logjams in the officials processes.

Pacheco said his administration had embarked on a program of simplification of official permits so that whoever wanted to start a business and create jobs would not have to "walk a long Calvary."

Among other accomplishments, Pacheco said that his administration has reduced the time a farmer has to wait to get a tax waiver on his machinery and equipment to only 45 days instead of six months.

The president also used the example of a small landowner who wants to build a wall valued at perhaps 50,000 colons, some $108. The landowner might be forced to seek permits through the use of lawyers and officials stamps, among other expenses, that might cost 100,000 colons, twice the value of the wall, Pacheco said.

The president said he had issued 18 executive decrees designed to break logjams. One such decree ordered state institutions to study their permitting processes and existing regulations to avoid duplication and unnecessary bureaucratic procedures.

Pacheco said that a family or a small enterprise should not be required to go five or six times to 10 institutions just to get permits. For that reason, his administration has set up a single window for small companies to get all their permits.

Pacheco also said that he wold set up a commission to study competitiveness of businesses here and the difficulty of establishing a new enterprise.

In addition he called on the Asamblea Legislativa to pass the proposed tax plan that he said would guarantee microeconomic stable and sane. He also urged the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad to speed up the installation of a high-speed internet service.

Bank won’t take tax money

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco Nacional no longer will accept monthly sale tax reports and payments from businesses and individuals. The bank, a state institution, stopped accepting these documents about a month ago, said employees, who attributed the change to a dispute between the bank and the tax collecting agency, Tributación Directa.

Banco Nacional customers who must pay monthly sale tax may do so at Banco de Costa Rica or Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago.

Queen’ birthday bash is April 16

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Organizers say that the Queen's Birthday Party Charity Event will be April 16 at the residence of the British ambassador in Escazú from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The garden part is one of the major social events of the year for the expat community. Money raised at the event go to Costa Rican schools in need.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Model Kate Moss cuts short her stay on Pacific
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former supermodel Kate Moss cut short her Costa Rican vacation Friday and left her five-star Pacific hotel because she was being pestered by British tabloid reporters.

Ms. Moss gained recognition by being the model for a series of Calvin Klein ads. But her relationship with a British rock singer, Peter Doherty, put her in the headlines again. Her boyfriend faces robbery, violent conduct and blackmail charges in England.

Ms. Moss was vacationing on Playa Conchal, but hotel workers said she was being bothered by telephone calls from tabloid reporters. One reporter was believed to have contracted the services of a local photographer to capture an image of the 31-year-old ex-model on the beach.

British reporters seem to be fixated on Ms. Moss. They have been calling local news outlets here at all hours seeking any shred of news on which they can base a story.

By contrast, Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio came into Costa Rica over the weekend with little fanfare. The Pacific beaches, particularly on the Nicoya Peninsula, are becoming a favored place for some Hollywood figures.

DiCaprio was less than photogenic for a local cameraman who spotted him at an airport. The actor was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and ducked getting his face on camera. 

DiCaprio starred in "The Aviator," which is favored for several Academy Awards. He also is known for hi role in "Titanic."

Too much of a good thing prompts a Spanish saying
Tanto va el cantaro al agua que rompe el cantaro.

 "When the jug goes too often to the well, sooner or later it will get broken." This is an old, old saying, and goes back to the days when folks used to have to go to the public well (pozo) or spring to fetch water. This dicho reminds us that if we do anything too much — even if it’s a good thing — it can turn out to be harmful.

A word that this dicho immediately brings to my mind is necio, a person who is always doing things they’ve been warned repeatedly not to do —  like a child who finally shatters your treasured antique water jug when you’ve warned him countless times against kicking that bloody soccer ball around inside the house. To be sure, that kid is a necio and provides a perfect opportunity for saying tanto va el cantaro al agua que rompe el cantaro, both literally and metaphorically speaking in this case. 

Today’s dicho also implies that overdoing it can result in the loss of something important to us ? like water, for example. My grandmother used to use this saying as a warning to us: "I know you’re having fun doing that now, but just keep it up and one day you’ll be sorry because tanto va el cantaro al agua que rompe el cantaro." 

Of course, when things went awry, as she had predicted, she would usually say nothing, only smile a triumphant little smile, turn round and walk silently away. I guess the lesson in all of this is that we need to learn the value of the water before it’s too late and the cantaro gets broken. But we humans seem to have a special penchant for abusing the good things of this life.

Take the beach, for example. Some of us stay too long, and even though it’s a lovely place, we come home with a bad sunburn that makes us suffer the consequences of our imprudence. This is what we might call in English "too much of a good thing." Friends and family are another —if totally different — example. How many times do we take them for granted, neglecting countless opportunities to express our affection and appreciation? Then one day suddenly they’re gone, and so is our last chance to tell them we love them. 

Of course, this dicho also applies to those of us who like to go to the casino and gamble. We may get lucky, but if we can’t tear ourselves away from that blackjack table, we stand a good chance of losing everything we’ve won and then some. 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

As you probably already guessed, this reminds me of a story: A few years back a well-to-do lawyer friend of mine from up Indiana way heard that I was coming down to Costa Rica for an international meeting. He asked me if he might tag along and I said of course, not relishing the prospect of making the long journey alone. So, I went to my meetings at a downtown San José hotel. Now, as many of them do, this particular hotel just happened to have a casino. 

When I finished my meetings, I found my friend exactly where I’d left him several hours earlier; sitting in front of a slot machine. feeding it coin after coin. I said I thought it was time for us to go and have diner, but he did not want to leave. 

So, in order to keep me quiet he gave me three coins and told me to play them in the machine next to his. With the first one I did not win a thing. But with the second I won three hundred dollars! So I took my tokens and immediately exchanged them for $300 worth of colons. 

"Hey!" he said, astounded. "Where are you going? This is your lucky day. You should keep on playing." I looked at him as I gathered my things and prepared to leave. "You’re right," I said. "This $300 really does make me feel lucky, but I want to enjoy the water before my cantaro gets broken. Now let’s go. I’ll spring for dinner." 

He gave me a sheepishly perplexed look, but followed me out of the casino scratching his head in confusion. We had a wonderful dinner on my winnings that evening, as you may well imagine.

Sinai Monge convicted on one of two pimping charges
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A three-judge panel convicted Sinai Monge Muñoz of pimping today. However, she was exonerated on a conspiracy charge.

The woman, who has served preventative detention since her arrest Oct. 9, 2203, was given an eight-year prison sentence. With half the time off for good behavior and credit for time served, she will be released on conditional liberty in two and a half years.

Earlier story below.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A three-judge panel is supposed to announce its verdict in the case of Sinai Monge Muñoz. She is the woman facing allegations that she ran a prostitution ring using sometimes underage girls to an upscale clientele.

The prosecutors in the case have asked the judges to sentence the woman to 10 years in prison for aggravated pimping and six more years for illicit association, a form of conspiracy.

The defense has asked for a full acquittal.

A man with the last names of Solano Brenes also is in the dock with the Monge woman. He is alleged to be an employee that provided transportation services to the operation. His defense is that he was merely a driver and had no interest in any prostitution ring.

The 43-year-old woman bragged openly of having high 

connections that gave her protection from the police. She was acquitted from a charge  of pimping in 1994 when judges ruled there was not enough evidence against her.

During the current trial an unnamed judge from Goicoechea has been implicated, as was a soccer player. Tapes of police telephone tapping have provided Costa 
Ricans with an inside look at her operation. Local television stations have been playing the tapes.

Investigators said they found a treasure trove of  information within her home. Neighbors had complained that fancy vehicles, including some that appeared to be from ministries, stopped frequently at her establishment to pick up women. The home has been described as a pickup point rather than a place of prostitution.

Despite all the investigatory work, no customers have been dragged into court. Patronizing an underage prostitute is considered a serious crime.

A U.S. citizen in Quepos has been sentenced to 20 years in prison simply for providing underage prostitutes with drugs. He was acquitted of the more serious charge of patronizing underage prostitutes. An associate is awaiting trial on a similar set of allegations.

In addition to the criminal allegations, some of the young women associated with  the Monge woman’s operation have leveled civil charges that could result in penalties of millions of colons.

If a prisoner does not get out of line during their time served, he or she usually can count on spending only half the court sentence behind bars.

Colombian woman faces allegations she recruited 50 young prostitutes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested a 40-year-old Colombian woman Friday and alleged that she recruited at least 50 women, some of them minors, to participate in a wide-ranging prostitution ring.

The women were displayed to customers via Internet Web pages and payment was accepted in cash or with credit cards, said an announcement for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The woman gained customers by advertising as a massage parlor in various newspapers, said investigators. She had been under investigation for a year.

Agents from the ministry’s Unidad Contra la Explotación Sexual and the Fiscalía de Delitos Sexuales conducted a raid at the woman’s home in El Carmen de Paso Ancho. She was identified by the last name of Sánchez.

She was ordered held in preventative detention.

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Environmental pact signed to go with free trade treaty
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States, the Dominican Republic and the nations of Central America have signed two environmental cooperation agreements, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced.

The pacts are "designed to complement and facilitate the implementation of environmental provisions in the free-trade agreement" that the seven countries have concluded, USTR said a press statement released Friday.

In the press release, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick described the free trade pact as "an important agreement that will spur economic growth and development in all of our countries."  He added: "We are very pleased that we've been able to include strong environmental provisions in our free-trade agreements." 

In the Treaty negotiators have gone even further by including a number of environmental firsts, said Zoellick.

The two supplemental agreements signed Friday "are evidence that strengthening our trade relationship can also strengthen our environmental relationship," Zoellick said.

The treaty has been criticized for failing to address certain environmental issues.

Previous free trade agreements, including those with Australia, Chile, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, and Singapore, all have strong environmental provisions, said Zoellick, adding that the Central american treaty goes even further.

The new agreement establishes a ground-breaking and robust public submissions process that will allow members of the public to raise concerns if they believe 

that a country is not effectively enforcing its environmental laws, the trade representative said.

Congress already provides to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua preferential duty-free access to the U.S. market for thousands of products through the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

The propoed treaty will provide reciprocal access for U.S. goods into these markets for the first time and, and because it has strict environmental obligations, while the Caribbean Basin program does not, the free trade treaty goes  further towards promoting 
environmental policies in the region, said the release.

The treaty also establishes an independent envirnmental secretariat that will review public submissions.  In the agreement signed Friday, the countries agreed to request that the Organization for Central American Economic Integration create a new unit to serve as the secretariat, said the statement.

Deputy given trade slot

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Goerge Bush has announced his intention to designate Peter F. Allgeier as acting U.S. Trade Representative, according to a statement released by the White House Friday. Allgeier will serve in place of outgoing Robert Zoellick, who has been nominated as deputy secretary of State.

Allgeier serves as deputy trade representative, responsible for supervising U.S. trade negotiations with Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. His duties included negotiating the Free Trade Area of the Americas  and implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Brazil's president will create giant rainforest reserve to end violence 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

Brazil's president has ordered the creation of a massive reserve in the Amazon rainforest in response to a recent rise in violence, including the recent killings of an American environmental activist and an advocate of landless peasants. 

President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva signed the plan late Thursday, designating tens of thousands of square kilometers of rain forest as environmental protection areas.

The president said he took the step to protect the forest and stop the violence associated with logging and ranching.

U.S. environmental activist, Sister Dorothy Stang was killed Saturday after campaigning for decades for the rights of landless peasants. On Wednesday, the leader of a peasant workers union, Daniel Soares da Costa was also gunned down. 

Brazil's government has sent 2,000 troops to the Amazon rain forest region following the deaths.

Massive Haitian jailbreak blamed on attack by drug traffickers' allies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Several hundred inmates who escaped from a prison in Haiti are believed to still be at large Sunday after an attack on the national penitentiary left one guard dead.

Haitian officials say as many as 500 of the prison's 1,200 detainees may have escaped. It is unclear how many have been recaptured.

The prisoners fled after gunmen fired on the facility 

Saturday. A government source as saying the raid was aimed at freeing drug traffickers.

Two high-ranking officials from the government of ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide were among the prisoners who were quickly recaptured.

Haitian authorities say former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert are back in custody. Both men have yet to be indicted. on allegations of violence against Aristide opponents.

Jo Stuart
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