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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, March 1, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 41      E-mail us
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As realty cycle renews itself, buyers must be wary
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There is a much quoted phrase in Costa Rica between lawyers.  Everything legal is not always right and everything right is not always legal.
Many of the development projects of the last decade were put together by individuals with high hopes of raking in the dough selling to unsuspecting buyers.  They skipped doing the correct due diligence on the properties they bought to sell.  They bought only to flip. 

Even well known Costa Rican developers built without all the paperwork and permissions required by law.  They built fast to sell fast to the flocks of people coming to Costa Rica to buy property.  There is one developer in so much trouble now in Guanacaste he is telling his buyers to move into the condominiums they bought and demand squatters rights because he cannot give them clear title.

Other developers promised everything and anything to prospective buyers.  There is a well know adage when it comes to sales.  A good salesperson needs a little larceny in their blood.  Well, it appears that some sellers of real estate to foreigners in Costa Rica had a lot of larceny in their blood.

These events are not new.  They have occurred over and over again in this country.  One well known case is the development in Nosara. Back in the 70s, a promoter put a few ads in newspapers in the United States and all kinds of people found their way to this tropical paradise to buy land.  However, one day, the promoter packed up his money and skipped town to leave all the buyers in a lurch. 

 Some of the original buyers had to "dig in" and make Nosara livable.  It has taken many years, decades in fact, but they have done a great job making Nosara the dream it was meant to be.  This is what usually happens, the promoters and developers skip town or go bankrupt and leave the buyers to fend for themselves.

Costa Rica is easy to sell.  It is a beautiful country.  Its land is very valuable and probably always will be.  The country's proximity to the United States makes it enticing.  There have even been mumblings that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world, based on a misinterpretation of a survey.  This was a bit hard to believe considering all the problems Costa Rica currently is fighting like escalating crime, deteriorating infrastructure, and out of control consumer debt.

Regardless of the country's problems, it remains a lure.  Costa Rica has always been ripe for developers to take advantage of the unsuspecting.  A classic example is beach property.  Beach property in Costa Rica cannot be sold, but it is sold all the time to the naive.

Do some promoters and developers have a conscience?  Do they believe in karma?  Is there karma in business?  Or are they just money grabbing people that do not give a darn about anyone else.

There is win-win in business.  But there is also a lot of win-lose.  Win-lose is where a businessperson to win must have another party that loses.   One of the basic tenets of business is "caveat emptor," let the buyer beware.   Law supports this concept.  Commercial and civil law clearly is geared to the realism that parties to a transaction must watch out for themselves.

People should look out for themselves.  They should do their due diligence when doing any kind of investing especially when investing in real estate.  More importantly, they should know who they are doing business with.  Are they working with win-win or win-lose businesspeople.

In the legal world there is a saying that a contract is only as good as the parties to it.  This means, some people will fight and nitpick over anything, and no matter how good a contract is, the 
rabbit and wolf

transaction it represents ends up in a legal dispute.  On the other hand, other people will always try to negotiate before going to court.

Currently, real estate sales are very slow.  It is definitely a buyers' market.  However, there are few buyers with money and financial institutions are reluctant to lend money especially to foreigners.  There are only a few banks in Costa Rica that do so.  Those that do, ask for droves of paperwork going back years including medical histories of prospective borrowers.

The facts support the idea that today is a great time to buy real estate in Costa Rica because no one is buying.  This is the other side of the pendulum.  Just as it was not the time to buy when real estate was going crazy. 

There are rumblings the new administration of the country — which is an extension of the last one —  is going to promote foreign investment heavily as it did in the 70s, especially, in the area of offering foreign retirees added incentives to come here.  This makes all the sense in the world given the fact the ruling class of the country is making heavy investments in medical care facilities.  They know something the common person does not. They are banking on a huge retirement community base to use those medical services.

Prudent investors know the trick to investing.  It is simple.  One makes money when they buy not when they sell.  This means a good investor buys something that is undervalued and knows what is paid is less than what it is really worth.

What happened in Costa Rica in the past decade was more of a cheaters market. Promoters and developers saw many people in Costa Rica that came here to look for property using kaleidoscopes for glasses.   They took advantage of the situation, and some of them made a lot of money doing so.  However, many others — the promoters and the developers — made mistakes too.  They got too greedy and bought and borrowed too much and are now on the verge of going bankrupt.  Some of them are in more trouble than the people they sold to.

Did they get what was coming to them?  Logic suggests they just got caught up in the same frenzy as the buyers. Neither did their homework. 

What will happen now is a rejuvenation of the market.  This is what happens in growth tourism markets.  The cycle will play itself out all over again. 

Garland M. Baker is a 38-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.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, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2010, use without permission prohibited.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 41

Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-7575

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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.


Real estate agents and services

MARGARET SOHN
with Great Estates of Costa Rica

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5916-5/15/10

Electrical certification
seen as safety measure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An international group that will meet here next week has a goal of certifying electricians.

Costa Rica does not now have such a program, but the Council for Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standardization of the Nations of the Americas said that certification is one way to help prevent tragedies associated with short circuits and also promote savings on energy costs.

Rafael Yáñez, president of the group, said that there is no sense in having an electrical code without inspection and verification. His organization will discuss this when they meet starting March 8 at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú. Attendees come from all over the Western Hemisphere.

Yáñez said that another option exists to the rigorous electrical code and inspections typical of the United States. He said that some countries have a voluntary program where those who install the electrical systems declare that the setup conforms to safety rules.

Visiting electricians always are surprised at the informality of the electrical systems in Costa Rica. In addition, many low-income dwellings are wired by the resident, who may know a little or a lot about electricity. Firemen see at least one fire a week caused by a short circuit.

Mexican visitor brought
too much cash, agents say


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Mexican air passenger became a prisoner Saturday morning when airport police and anti-drug police found $250,900 in his luggage, they said.

The man, identified by the last names of Muñoz Briceño, was traveling to Juan Santamaria from Guadalajara, México, agents said.

The law requires anyone carrying more than $10,000 to declare the amount.

Our reader's opinion
Ticos must be cautions
in accepting Chinese aid


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
I am a Australian, and my wife comes from Costa Rica. She has been here over 23 years. We have been to Costa Rica for five weeks last year, such a lovely place I could call it God's country compared to my arid dry country in some parts.

The Chinese in our part of the region have given aid to poor Pacific nation in exchange to fishing rights and so have the Japanese. They dredge the whole ocean and onto fish processing ships. They have no concept of the environment. To them it's all about the god-all-mighty dollar.

It does not stop at that. It interferes with the countries' politics, and it has the potential to pull down those governments, which we have seen.

 It's all about buying their way into those countries. In very resent times, as you may or may not know, our Australian environment groups have had huge battles on the seas of ramming ships, and so this has gone on for years. I plead with Costa Rica to take a strong stance. Costa Rica does not need Chinese money building a soccer stadium. This does not put food on the table. . . .  Costa Rica will never starve or it's people endure extreme hardship. They are quite able to take care of beautiful country. Yes, they have their internal problems, but they certainly do not need the Chinese to do that for them.

We do not have to sell our souls . . . .
Adrian  Taylor
Australia

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A.M. Costa Rica 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 weekday.

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.

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.


For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 41


Villalobos victims will share nearly $8 million, accord says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Successful victims in the action against Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho are sharing $7,804,995.79 in a court-approved settlement.

The amount is less than the total of $20,288,034.96 that the individuals and corporations won as part of the trial that put Villalobos in prison for 18 years on charges of aggravated fraud and illegal banking.

A document issued Jan. 11 by Alberto Solano Cordero, a judge who oversaw a conciliation process, contains the names of every proposed recipient, the amount they won at trial and the amount they will receive as a result of the conciliation.

By far, the greatest number of creditors were represented by Ewald Acuña. The legal papers said that he represented 143 persons or corporations. His clients will share $5.74 million.

The Defensa Pública represented 106 persons who will share $1.45 million. The amount that each will receive appears to be universally 38.47 percent of the amount they were awarded for damages in the verdict of the Oswaldo Villalobos trial. Acuña told his clients last week that they would receive about 27 percent of the original award shortly with some 10 percent more coming in six months.

The conciliation ruling ordered the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas to release money it was holding. Oswaldo Villalobos had been charged with money laundering. Had he been convicted on this charge, the drug institute would take substantial amount of his assets.

The highest amount being distributed to one person as a result of the conciliation is $961,773.75.

The Poder Judicial said it it holding $9 million in Villalobos funds. Agents for Villalobos were authorized to sell some hard assets to generate more money.

The lawyers are being paid as part of this conciliation as well as the victims. Acuña was been awarded $2 million, according to court papers. The Oficina de Defensa Civil de la Victima is receiving $672,031. Edgardo Garcia Vargas
accepted $135,000 for his role in the case. Juan Guillermo
Tovar González, a current Villalobos lawyer, received a fee of $380,000. Maria Gabriela Mikel Villalobos also represented Oswaldo Villalobos in formulating the agreement.

The conciliation process was put together by Acuña and Tovar, the documents said.

The conciliation documents make clear that the payments are not connected with Luis Enrique Villalobos, who still is a fugitive. If he is brought to trial, the victims can seek more damages from him.

The Poder Judicial denied last week that any documents existed on the conciliation process. A spokesman contended that the agreement was a private one between lawyers in the case.

In fact, the documents, obtained informally, make clear that there was a court hearing and that a judge supervised and eventually approved the money awards.

Those who persisted with their civil action jointly with the criminal case against Oswaldo Villalobos were urged by other creditors to drop their allegations. A group of creditors thought that if all charges were dropped Luis Enrique would return to Costa Rica to distribute the vast sums of money he was safeguarding for his high-interest customers.

However, testimony and evidence at the Oswaldo Villalobos trial fail to show that the Villalobos brothers were engaged in economic activity that would justify the 3 percent or so a month that they were paying those who gave them money.

The trial evidence, instead, showed that the brothers were investing the money that came in into traditional financial products at rates far below what they were paying out.

The Villalobos financial empire began to totter July 4, 2002, when investigators raided the mall San Pedro borrowing operation, Villalobos homes and outlets of Ofinter S.A., the money exchange houses operated by Oswaldo Villalobos. Then Oct. 14, 2002, the Villalobos brothers suspended operation, and Luis Enrique fled. Prosecutors detained Oswaldo.


The era of instant, informal traffic fines may be dawning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic police got an early start on the new law Sunday.  One officer extorted $10 from a Costa Rican who was about to visit the A.M. Costa Rica editorial offices Sunday night.

The high fines in the new traffic law are expected to generate a land-office business for underpaid members of the Policía de Tránsito.

Fines for basic traffic offenses can be as high as 220,000 colons, some $402. That penalty can be assessed for someone going more than 20 km per hour over the posted limit. That's about 12 mph. So informal settlements or instant fines are more economical.

Traffic officers are ready to make a deal. In the case of the Costa Rican Sunday night, the payoff was in exchange for not writing a ticket because the motorcycle driver did not
have his license on his person. But the driver said that it was clear that the officer was in search of a payoff at the very moment the traffic stop was made.

The new traffic law is supposed to contain provisions to keep better watch on the 850 police officers.

There may be no need for instant fines today. Traffic officers voted Sunday that they would ignore the new rules and concentrate on reckless driving and drunk driving. The decision was taken by the Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionales en Tránsito.

Lawmakers are expected to meet again today to consider reforms of the new law. They have 220 proposals to sort through, and they may end up reducing the fines or make other changes. So police are reluctant to enforce the new law as written until they get more feedback from the legislature.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 41


Mrs. Clinton not courting leftist leaders on trip, official says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department denies that Hillary Clinton is cozying up to leftist leaders.

Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of State, briefed reporters Friday in Washington on the trip. He noted that Mrs. Clinton, the secretary of State, will be attending the inauguration of leftist president-elect Jose Mujica in Uruguay.

A reporter asked if the State Department was trying to send some kind of signal in that the trip could easily have been structured around the March 11 inauguration of rightist Sebastian Piñera in Chile.

"No signal whatsoever, trying to send," said Valenzuela. "It had to do in large measure with the scheduling issues that the secretary has. And in an ideal world, we would attend all of these inaugurations, but obviously it’s difficult to do that. So when we looked at the calendar, the fact that the Pathways meeting had been on the agenda for some time earlier, and this was the best combination of things. And I think – I’m very pleased with the way in which we were able to sort of, I think, cover all of the interests that we wanted to cover."

He was referring to the Pathways for Prosperity this week in San José. Pathways is a George Bush initiative that the Barack Obama administration has embraced. Ministers from the 14 countries involved will be meeting, and Mrs. Clinton is expected to give a keynote speech.

The U.S. State Department released a transcript of the Valenzuela press conference.

A reporter noted that the inaugural events in Montevideo are going to attract leaders from across the region, some of the leftist leaders that have been antagonistic at times with the United States, such as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Hugo
Chávez of Venezuela and maybe even Raúl Castro of Cuba.

Valenzuela said that there were no plans for Mrs. Clinton to meet one-on-one with anyone in Montevideo except with Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina. He said that the United States would very much like to be able to strengthen its relationship with Argentina. Mrs.  Kirchner has been antagonistic to the United States in the past.

The assistant secretary said that Mrs. Clinton's agenda includes competitiveness and social justice as well as public security and democratic governance.

The earthquake in Chile Saturday may disrupt Mrs. Clinton's plans there. She was due there Tuesday.

Wednesday's visit to Brazil will be the centerpiece of Mrs. Clinton's diplomatic efforts. She plans to lobby Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva to support new sanctions against Iran. Brazil is a voting member of the U.N. Security Council, but has warm relations with Iran and has been reluctant to further punish Tehran for its nuclear enrichment program.

Mrs. Clinton speaks in Costa Rica Thursday and then travels to Guatemala, where she will also meet the leaders of the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.

"Pathways is one the Secretary’s signature initiatives," said Valenzuela. "She has expanded this initiative that began earlier to add a whole host of other components, including such things as micro credit, ways in which you can empower women. It all fits in within the theme of trying to look for ways to enhance competitiveness, with a significant component, too, of encouraging private-public partnerships in the search for greater competitiveness and to address issues of social inclusion. Issues like corporate social responsibility, for example, are also on the table."

Mrs. Clinton also will be meeting with President Óscar Arias Sánchez and president-elect Laura Chinchilla.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 41

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Mrs. Bachelet seeks help
in recovery efforts in Chile


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Rescue workers in Chile braved aftershocks as strong as 6.9 on the Richter scale to search for survivors amid the rubble Sunday as the country's president gave the military control over security in the hard-hit city of Concepcion.  As the death toll rose to more than 700 in one of the most powerful earthquakes in a century, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet also appealed for international aid. 

President Bachelet called on the public and the private sector in Chile to help with the recovery effort as offers of aid poured in from around the globe.

She said that as Chile faces the aftermath of Saturday's earthquake, the country needs help from all civil and military authorities that are able as well as the private sector.  She says the recovery effort would last well into the future. 

The 8.8 magnitude quake damaged or destroyed more than a million homes.  It snapped bridges and ripped apart roads.  The reconstruction work will pose a daunting challenge for president-elect Sebastian Piñera who is scheduled to take office March 11.

At a supermarket in Chile's second largest city, Concepción, residents made a rush for supplies.  Some said the quake had left them with nothing forcing them to fend for themselves.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse large crowds of looters. 

Many Chileans are afraid to return to their homes and are sleeping outdoors as the country continues to be jolted by a barrage of aftershocks.

As the country copes with the aftermath of Saturday's quake, the search for survivors continues.

As many as 50 people are feared trapped in a collapsed apartment building in Concepción.

Speaking through an interpreter, one survivor says he struggled to escape. "It fell when the earthquake occurred but it took me half an hour to get out. They helped me get out because I was on the second floor," he said.

Chilean officials expect the death toll will continue to rise as recovery teams continue their grim task.

After the massive earthquake hit Saturday, many Chilean seaside communities were battered by tidal waves.  A tsunami swept the seaside town of Talcahuano, seriously damaging port facilities and lifting boats out of the water.  Pictures show shipping containers strewn around and flooded streets.

In the coastal city of Constitución, authorities say there were at least 350 deaths.

North of Constitución, in the city of Llolleo, one man tells how he, his wife and his father were swept away by a massive surge of water after the quake. He says they were leaving in a truck when the water came.  He says something, maybe a branch, hit him in the head and he blacked out.  The man says he has searched everywhere for his wife, including local hospitals, but has not found her.
 
The rest of the Pacific region appears to have been spared from devastating tsunamis.  In Japan, coastal residents who were evacuated Saturday have returned to their homes.

Dozens of nations and international aid groups have mobilized to provide aid to Chile.

Chile is an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation.  Speaking at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI said he is praying for the victims and for all of those affected by the disaster.

Chile experiences frequent seismic activity.  But Saturday's quake was the country's strongest since 1960, when a 9.5 magnitude temblor set off tsunamis that killed hundreds of people as far away as Japan and the Philippines.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 1, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 41


Latin American news
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Investigators acted quickly
in case of Coopemex


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff*

Investigators have moved quickly in the case of Coopemex, the savings cooperative that was taken over by the government two weeks ago.

Five persons related to the financial cooperative were detained Friday for questioning. The individuals are suspected of the bad management of the finances of the cooperative.

Coopemex, more correctly the Servicio Cooperativo Nacional de Ahorro y Crédito de los Trabajadores Costarricenses, came into the hands of regulators two weeks ago, mainly because the percentage of reserve funds held by the bank fell below the required 10 percent threshold.

The case is being investigated by prosecutors from the office of Delitos Económicos, Corrupción y Tributarios.

Informally regulators said that directors of the financial firm that had 18 branches and nearly 90,000 depositors were generous with payments to themselves. The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras referred the case to prosecutors last week.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that agents began at 6 a.m. to visit the homes of the five employees. There also was a search of the central offices on Paseo Colón where computers and documents were taken.

In Pinares de Curridabat Minor Sandoval López was detained at his home. He is the general manager.

Also detained were William Villalobos Umaña, president of the administrative council of the cooperative, Rafael García Obando, the internal auditor, and Víctor Hernández Umaña and Javier Lara López, both members of the council or board of directors.

There were arrests in Barva de Heredia, Tibás, Dos Cercas de Desamparados, and Ciruelas de Alajuela, in addition to  Pinares.

* This story appeared in A.M. Costa Rica Friday afternoon as the actions by investigators became known.

Sewers stuffed with trash,
municipal workers say


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Municipal workers pulled some 321 tons of solid waste from the drainage systems in Pavas, they reported Friday. Other San José districts yielded an annual trash total of from 17.59 tons in Mata Redonda to 96 tons in Hatillo, officials said. They urged residents to keep trash out of the drains. Garbage in drains cost money to remove and also causes flooding. The municipality said it spent 8.1 billion colons keeping the sewers open in 2009. That's nearly $15 million.




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