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(506) 223-1327           Publshed Friday, March 2, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 44             E-mail us    
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Canadian found in gulf died from a bullet in head
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Canadian found floating in the Gulf of Nicoya died from a bullet to the head.

His wife revealed this Thursday and said she received this news from the pathologists conducting an autopsy.

The man is Wolfgang Gola Broun, 51. He was married to Coralia Carranza Calero for 12 years. Although the couple has been separated for three years, Broun's neighbors in Paquera contacted his wife in Puntarenas when he disappeared in mid-February, she said.

The wife traveled to Paquera on the west shore of the gulf to inspect Broun's home and then to file a missing persons report with the Judicial Investigating Organization on Cóbano. That was Tuesday, she said.

When a fisherman found a body a day later, there was a suspicion of suicide. A bag containing rocks
was tied around the man's chest, a possible method for suicide.

Ms. Carranza is a licensed nurse and a psychologist. She said she did not think that her husband showed any signs of depression or clues to a possible suicide. The bullet wound also suggests that a suicide would be at least complex.

Determining the identity of the body absolutely is difficult, she said, noting that the corpse had been in the water at least eight days. There is a distinctive scar and all the teeth are intact for comparison but facial characteristics are distorted, she said. Her husband originally came from Quebec and still has family there, she said.

Ms. Carranza said she went to the Judicial Investigating Organization office in Cóbano Thursday and was told the case was being handled in Puntarenas. She said when she went to the similar office in Puntarenas she was told Cóbano was in charge. At no time did any investigator visit the home of her dead husband to seek clues, she said.

Survey says that consumers are more confident now
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Consumer confidence appears to have improved over the last six months. Fewer consumers are pessimistic, and less than half expect interest rates to go up.

These are the findings of a public opinion survey done by the Escuela de Estadística of the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The government got good marks, too.

Persons in 721 homes were reached by telephone during the first week of February and responded to a battery of questions about the economy and politics.

Overall, a report on the survey said that a consumer confidence index was 54 on a 100-point scale, the highest ever since the survey was begun in September 2002. The index is the result of five questions, two relating to current economic conditions and three relating to the expectations of those being interviewed.

The overall score of 54 on the index is 10 points higher than the 44 a year ago and 13.5 points higher than the 40.5 registered in August.

All three questions about economic expectations drew more favorable responses than they did a year ago. The report said that 37.3 percent of the respondents were optimistic about the future and just 15.1 percent were pessimistic. A year ago, 20.1 percent were optimistic and 24.3 were pessimistic.

In a separate question 41.6 percent said the government is doing a good job. Some 26.2 percent said the government was doing a poor job. The percentage of those who think that the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration is doing a good job compares favorably with the 25 percent who said the Abel Pacheco administration was doing a good job in September 2002.

Last month 57 percent of the respondents said that the time was not good to purchase a new car. Six months ago 79 percent said the time was not right
Percent responding
better or good


1. Can you tell me if economically you and your family are better or worse than a year ago?
2. Within a year do you consider that you and your family will be economically better, worse or equal to now?
3. During the next 12 months do you think that the economic situation of the companies or buisiness of the country will be better, worse or equal to now?
4. Thinking in general about the future, would you say that during the next five years the country will have good times, a period of crisis, neither one nor the other?
5. How would you say the time is to purchase durable goods?

to  do so. Only 41 percent said the time was not right to purchase a home.

Some 44 percent of the respondents said in February that they expected personal interest rates to go up. That compares with 54 percent in February 2006.

The survey was weighted 60-40 toward men, reflecting who answers the home telephone.

Casa Presidencial quickly came out with a news release saying that Arias was happy with the study. He said his government had made great efforts to recapture the confidence of Costa Ricans.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 44

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Cows, cheese or trail ride
are options for weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists can visit the cows and inspect a giant piece of cheese this weekend, or they can take their horse to San Josecito de Cutris Sunday for a trail ride.

The trail ride is the 10th edition, and the route has been chosen to go through scenic areas. Those who are without a horse can participate in wagons pulled by tractors. A rodeo is planned for Saturday.

More than 3,500 persons attended last year and nearly 1,500 of those were riders.

San Josecito de Cutris is 17 kilometers (about 10 miles) east of La Fortuna de San Carlos, the town near Arenal volcano.

The big cheese, some 150 kilos (330 pounds) of queso palmito is at Zarcero where the Exposición Nacional Holstein 2007 is being presented along with the Feria Costarricense de la Industria Láctea Expo Zarcero 2007.

The event starts tonight with a queen contest. The big chunk of cheese will be exhibited Sunday at 11 a.m. and there also is a rodeo Sunday. There also is a Costa Rican bull fight Monday, March 11 and March 12, the last day of the event.

Zarcero is a big milk producing area.

Free trade opponents plan
to consider what's next

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Frente Nacional de Apoyo de Lucha contra el TLC, the umbrella organization for those who oppose the free trade treaty with the United States, will be revealing more strategy today.

The group plans a press conference at which leaders also will evaluate the march that they organized for last Monday.

Eugenio Trejos, rector of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, heads the group.

The march was a success based on the number of persons who attended. A.M. Costa Rica estimated 80,000. However, the Arias administration and 38 legislative deputies who will vote to approve the free trade treaty were not moved.

Trejos is considered a moderate and has not been among those who have called for a "referendum in the street," in other words riots and violence to change the mind of the government.

Meanwhile, legislative aides estimate that deputies will need more than two months to move the treaty to ratification. The Sala IV has said a plan to expedite the measure by fixing a period of 22 to 28 daily sessions for a final vote is not unconstitutional. However, the measure is going back to committee because the constitutional court said that there was a procedural lapse.

Casa Presidencial welcomed the decision by the court. Opponents had filed the appeal in the hopes that they could use stalling tactics to keep the measure from coming to a ratification vote.

In other treaty news, the free trade agreement entered into force Thursday between the United States and the Dominican Republic. The United States said that the island nation had adjusted its local laws to conform to the treaty and a proclamation by George Bush made certain adjustments to accommodate the country.

Girl, 3, sought as abductee

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are seeking 3-year-old Arielle Thomas Abrahams who was last seen walking away with her father,  Daniel Thomas Méndez, at Alajuela's Mall International Feb. 21.

Her mother, Hellen María Abrahms, filed the report. Officials said that the case involved family problems and that both parents originally were from France.

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Costa Rica
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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 44

Council formed to cut down the increasing downtown crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Government officials took a step Thursday to do something about the crime in San José.

Government officials formed a committee, a security council, to bring the relevant agencies together. The idea came from Johnny Araya, San José mayor.

Included on the committee are representatives from Migración y Extranjería, Fuerza Pública, Policía de Control de Drogas, the Policía Municipal, the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Policía Fiscal of the Ministerio de Hacienda.

Araya characterized the problem as a grave one. Expats would agree because reports from the streets say that bands of armed robbers are working the area along Avenida 1 between calles 11 and 7 without any hindrance from the police. This is an area that attracts many male tourists, and because of the establishments there many leave on foot tipsy.

The security minister, Fernando Berrocal and his officers
have been working on the central city crime problem since taking office in May. A number of small-time crack dealers have been detained and early morning sweeps through low rent districts frequently catch those who prey on their peers.

The uncertainty is what happens to these people once they are in the hands of the judiciary. Many seem to be picked up repeatedly.

The members of the security council were sworn in Thursday by President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

Berrocal said the idea is to set up similar councils in the other urban areas of the country.

The Arias administration already has set up a tourism police force, but the white-shirted officers from this unit are more likely to be seen in front of the Betatron Nacional during the day than along Avenida 1 at night.

The council has a broad mandate. Casa Presidencial said the concerns would be vandalism, crime, corruption, trafficking and use of drugs, organized crime, exploitation of minors at work or sexually and family violence.

A visit to two of the many hostels in the San José area
Recently Christiane and I got together for lunch after a long unplanned hiatus.  Before setting off to eat, I was invited to see their home, which she and her husband, José, had turned into a hostel.  The house, which is located on the northwest corner of the recently refurbished Parque Nacional in downtown San José, has been in the family for many years and is, in fact, a mansion, with a marble staircase and a huge third floor balcony that gives the sunbathers up there a 360 degree view of the city. It was built in 1936 by coffee farmer Roberto Zeledón, who fell in love with art deco, so the house reflects his taste. 

As Christiane was showing me through the rooms, I kept thinking of the Hemingway much quoted title, “A Clean, Well-lighted Place.”  Sunlight pours in the many large windows, and everything is newly painted and furnished – even the mattresses are brand new. 

The hostel is a family enterprise, which has the advantages and disadvantages that brings.  There is always someone to help you, and most of the members are bilingual so Spanish, English, French and (until June) German are spoken. Daughter Mariana is in charge of overseeing the kitchen, her daughter Noelia seems to be in charge of coloring.  Son, Frederico, along with his other chores, will prepare a very large buffet breakfast for $10.

From the hostel, one can walk to the heart of downtown (the Teatro Nacional) by passing through four parks and going the rest of the way, for the most part, on a pedestrian boulevard – Avenida Central. 

Between the dormitories ($10 a bed) and the three private rooms with double beds ($30 with a shared bath) they can accommodate up to 17 people. Also included in the price of a room are wireless Internet access, a library, coffee, and use of the kitchen, a TV lounge and a comfortable common room, as well, of course, the balcony.  The eclectic collection of original art hanging on just about every wall is another attraction.

There are many excellent restaurants within walking distance or a short taxi ride from the hostel.  Like most guest homes, tours, car rentals and even discounts at some of the restaurants are available.   
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

I have stayed in just one hostel in my travels – a convent in Venice.  I slept on what must have been a bed designed to punish a very naughty nun.  It was in a dormitory and was $10 back in 1990.  A place like the Hostel Casa del Parque would have been heaven.

Visiting this hostel has made me curious about others in the city. I decided to visit Mi Casa Hostel in Sabana Norte just around the corner from where I live.  Mi Casa also has  private rooms — with bath and TV ($28) or sharing a bath ($25); the dormitory beds are $10.  These prices include supplies for breakfast, which the guests cook for themselves in a well-equipped kitchen.  What caught my eye was the pool table.  I love to play pool about as much as I love ping pong and it can’t be nearly as dangerous.  There are laundry facilities for rent. This is close to Parque la Sabana but not as handy to downtown.  There are buses just two and a half blocks away.

Both hostels were clean and inviting with common rooms for relaxing, TV, Internet rooms.  No balcony in Mi Casa but it does have a back yard garden and patio.  Both hostels arrange tours.

I have seen only these two hostels, but there are a number of them throughout the city, and probably elsewhere.  If they are at all like these two, I think they are an excellent alternative for those of us on budgets – especially since private rooms are available and people of all ages are invited.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City:  A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available through the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Ms. Stuart at jostuart@amcostarica.com

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

DOS VISTAS . . . finally on the market...
Located literally on top of a ridge, a small mountain, the vistas are unequalled anywhere in the area.   Surrounded by mountains and volcanos, the panoramas stretch from the lights of San José and the Central Valley to the smaller towns further north, Sarchi, Naranjo, Atenas, and Palmares. This house and its location is truly one of a kind.
Dos Vistas is located just off of a well-
maintained public road only 10 minutes into the mountains overlooking Grecia.   The property consists of one manzana (almost two acres),  private yet very accessible and convenient.   The property sits on a flyway for birds and flocks of parrots and literally hundreds of other species visit daily.
The home itself is spacious yet comfortable.   It consists of over 1,500 sq. feet, and over 300 sq. feet of tiled terraces.   There are two large bedrooms, each with its own bath.   The large living area, with larger two story cupola, is vaulted and the entire home features hardwood ceilings and gorgeous tiled floors.  The kitchen is framed by custom cabinetry and granite counters. Just off of the kitchen, yet separate from the rest of the home is the pila or washroom. And two steps further is a rustic carport.

The home is surrounded by trees, coffee, grass and many varieties of shrubs. There is more than enough room for additional creativity, perhaps a pool, a jacuzzi, a larger garden, or a gazebo.  
This home is truly one of a kind.   It is not huge. It is comfortable and the location is definitely pure Costa Rican.   Click HERE for additional pictures.

Come to Grecia and view Dos Vistas — before it is gone.  $160,000

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 2, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 44

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From a hotel owner:

'At this time we have a deposit and all looks good!!  Thank you for your help, and I must say your paper is impressive, and I had no idea you had such a circulation around the world.  Received many inquiries for our hotel for that reason.'

She used our classifieds!

U.S. drug report highlight Afghanistan, Bolivia, Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department's annual report on illicit drug trade worldwide, issued Thursday, said Afghanistan's opium production hit a record high last year while there was backsliding on anti-drug efforts in Venezuela and Bolivia. Iran's counter-narcotics efforts were commended. 

The two volume report of more than 1,000 pages is mandated by Congress, and it sketched a generally bleak picture about soaring opium output in war-torn Afghanistan and backsliding in the fight against the cocaine trade in South America.

The report said despite four years of anti-narcotics aid to Afghanistan by the United States, Britain and others, the country's opium output jumped 25 percent last year.

It valued the illicit opium crop at over $3 billion, a third of the country's total economic output, and said it has produced a surge in heroin traffic to Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

Briefing reporters, Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement, said the role in the opium trade by the Taleban is a particular worry for the United States, which believes that drug profits are funding attacks on U.S. and NATO forces.

Much of the Afghan opium crop is said to be shipped out through Pakistan, despite what were said to be several promising Pakistani anti-drug initiatives.

Patterson said of Afghanistan's neighbors, Iran has been the most aggressive in efforts to interdict the traffic in heroin, which she said is severely affecting Iranian society.

"They have the world's highest addiction rate," she noted.
"It's some six times what it is in the [United] States, maybe more. They've been very active on the border in interdicting shipments coming in from Afghanistan. I think the Iranians view this, as well they might, as a major social and law enforcement problem."

The report said cocaine consumption in the United States has been on a decade-long decline, and praised the coca eradication and law enforcement efforts of the government of Colombia, which remains the source of about 90 percent of the cocaine reaching U.S. and other world markets.

However, Assistant Secretary Patterson said U.S.-backed anti-drug efforts in Colombia and the Andean region have pushed some trafficking flights and other smuggling operations into Venezuela.

She said while some U.S.-Venezuelan anti-drug cooperation continues, the government of leftist President Hugo Chávez has been noticeably less vigilant in this area than its predecessors:

"The Venezuelans for years did a great job on counter-narcotics, one of the best in the entire Hemisphere," she added.  "If you grew coca in Venezuela, you went to jail. They vigorously enforced their laws. And frankly, that's all stopped, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me."

The report also criticized the performance of the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former leader of the country's coca growers federation who has advocated some legal uses of coca leaves.

It said while Bolivia's total coca cultivation in 2005 was only half of what it was in the late 1980's, initial U.S. estimates are that it increased last year and that the trend in Bolivia is "disquieting."

Not much new on drugs and money laundering in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was little new in the U.S. State Department's annual report on illicit drug trade regarding Costa Rica.

The report correctly noted that local consumption of crack cocaine is on the rise and that under the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration seizures rose dramatically.

The report said that the U.S. will continue to provide technical expertise, training, and funding to professionalize Costa Rica's coast guard and enhance its capabilities to conduct independent maritime law enforcement operations in accordance with an existing agreement with the United States.

The report also says without attribution that no senior official of the Costa Rican government engages in, encourages, or facilitates the illicit production or distribution of such drugs, or the laundering of proceeds
from illegal drug transactions.

A second summary on money laundering was less laudatory.  Even though Costa Rica has convicted a handful of individuals for money laundering in 2005 and 2006, further efforts are required to bring Costa Rica into compliance with international anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing standards, the report said.

Reforms in 2002 to the Costa Rican counter narcotics law expand the scope of anti-money laundering regulations, but also create an invitation to launder funds by eliminating the government's licensing and supervision of casinos, jewelers, realtors, attorneys, and other non-bank financial institutions, the report said.

The report also said that some critical legislation had not been approved and that offshore banking, casinos and an emphasis on tax evasion cripple efforts against money laundering.

Bush's Latin trip seen as way to improve U.S. relations here
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Experts testifying on Capitol Hill say President George Bush's upcoming trip to Latin America will be crucial to efforts at improving the U.S. image with governments and people in the region.

The president's trip beginning next week will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and México.

It's seen as pivotal to combating what many experts and members of Congress see as rising anti-American sentiment in the region.

This is among the concerns voiced by expert witnesses at a hearing of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, says the Bush visit comes at a difficult time in which the U.S. is no longer viewed with the confidence it once was. "I have not seen in the region, and I travel there quite a bit, as much anti-U.S. sentiment across the region and it is very pervasive, nor have I witnessed the degree of lack of confidence in U.S. government and leadership," he said.

Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, and a former Latin American expert on the National Security Council, offers the same picture. "I have never seen a moment where there is as much of a rejection of U.S. foreign policy and posture of the U.S. in the world as one sees today," he said.

Valenzuela asserts that a push-back against the U.S. crosses the political spectrum driven, in his view, primarily by President Bush's handling of Iraq.

However, he believes the U.S. also needs to undertake a more strategically-focused re-assessment of policy, while paying attention to key issues such as trade and narcotics.

In a letter to the president, the chairman of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Rep. Eliot Engel, urged the president to focus more intensively on Latin America in the last two years of his presidency.

Engel is concerned about reductions in development assistance, in particular with child health funding, in the president's 2008 budget. "We see the disparity in terms of income, economic disparity, where a very small percentage of people at the top are doing extremely well, are extremely
wealthy and then the tremendous overwhelming amount of the population are living in absolutely unacceptable poverty. This is a powder keg and this is certainly something I think the U.S. cannot turn a blind eye to," he said.

The Bush administration defends its record, saying overall aid to Latin America increased from $862 million to $1.4 billion this year, while saying some hard decisions had to be made regarding priorities for some countries, such as Bolivia.

As for what the president can accomplish, much is likely to depend on actions he takes once he returns to Washington.

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, says one goal would be to increase U.S.-Brazilian cooperation on ethanol fuel technology. "U.S. energy security would be enhanced by working more collaboratively with Brazil to develop and promote ethanol resources. Of course, to be most effective, the U.S. tariff on imported ethanol has to be reduced or eliminated," he said.

Hakim said Congress must do its part by approving free trade agreements that the administration negotiated with Peru, Colombia and Panama, adding that failure to do so could blunt goodwill the president is able to encourage.

"This would signal to the rest of Latin America, again, a certain unreliability of the U.S. even on an issue that we put as a very high priority," he said.

As the president prepares for his trip, lawmakers also continue to worry about the impact of Venezuela's president Hugh Chavez's policies on U.S. efforts.

Republican Dan Burton and Democrat Gregory Meeks voice similar concerns the Venezuelan leader has taken advantage of a lack of U.S. engagement.

BURTON: "President Chavez has been, in my opinion, taking advantage of the poverty with the vast amounts of oil money he is getting, and he is using that money to move many of those governments down there to the left. And I think that bodes very ill for the U.S. and for the region long term.

MEEKS: We can criticize Chávez all we want, but what matters most to the poorest in the region with the world's largest income inequities is who will bring their plight to light, who will help?"

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