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(506) 2223-1327       Published Tuesday, March 3, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 43      E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Expats have to keep the eye on many developments
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Life in Costa Rica today is similar to the circus juggler who has multiple balls up in the air at one time. There is a file cabinet full of unfinished business.

At the top of the list is Luis Milanes, the casino owner who went away with $200 million of investor money. He's back now, and his case is slowly moving through the court system. Meanwhile, a judge has been nice enough to let him remain free after he posted real estate worth a fraction of his creditors' financial losses.

Several sources have reported that Milanes, a Cuban American, is trying to negotiate his way out of the fraud charge. Look for some action on the part of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which would like to have a look at the casino books.

Another failed financier is Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho. His status as a fugitive has been diminished significantly by revelations in the States that ponzi scheme operators there got $8 to $80 billion. At best Villalobos left creditors here holding the bag for a scant $1 billion. Soon he will be off the hook because Costa Rica's statute of limitations benefits fugitives.

There has been no action generated by an A.M. Costa Rica offer of a $500 reward for information leading to his capture even though a Canadian investor sweetened the amount by $150 more.  At best it appears the world has lost interest in Luis Enrique and his brother, Oswaldo, who is spending a fraud sentence in senior citizen prison.

The scams were old news but the freight train bearing down on the country now is unfinished real estate. All over Costa Rica and elsewhere in North America those who bought properties here from blueprints are losing their patiences. More and more cases are coming to light of property developers who took money but now have not even a prayer of completing what they promised.

The situation is confused by the many developers who are simply stalled by lack of financing who have every intention of meeting their obligations. So it is hard to tell good guys from bad guys.

To help in that regard, the Judicial Investigating Organization has a task force to handle these cases. Developers who have not lived up to their contracts risk a fraud charge if they do not return the money. And many already spent the money.

Another type of fraud is scamming the tourists. There have been several cases reported of Web site operators simply taking the money and not making promised reservations. Tourists seldom have the desire or language ability to make a complaint if their credit card company makes good.

One Web site operator wants readers to know he is not a crook. He is Forrest Geiger 
owner/webmaster of Geiger was featured in a news story last month that said he was involved in a criminal prosecutor brought by a former business partner, Jorn Malek, who ran (note the dash). Now Malek runs a site under the name of

Geiger wanted to proclaim his innocence and report that the trial that was supposed to start Feb. 9 was postponed at the request of Malek's lawyer. The trial stems from the work the two men did to put up the Web site. Geiger asserts he will be exonerated.

Malek and his wife, Angela Malek, in response to the same story, said that Discovery World Travel had no relation with the case, which was being pressed by Falimingo Link S.A with Malek as the company's representation. Still, a copy of Discovery World Travel's Web site can be found at

Considering the turmoil in tourist marketing, potential visitors probably should conduct a basic Internet search for consumer opinions before giving credit card information to companies here.

Tourist fraud is expected to increase as economic
It's all up in the air at once

pressures continue to reduce the number of visitors. And some situations may be something less than fraud. Vehicle rentals is one area where tourists frequently feel exploited. Some have
complained of being sweet-talked into a more expense vehicle or charged double on their credit card. Others have said a rental company worker charged them for pre-existing damage, sometimes  underneath the vehicle.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo even warns visitors to its new Web site that it is not responsible for reservations made through it! However, there is no obvious way to file a complaint.

The nation's immigration department continues to be in chaos. A reader reported Monday that he has been given an appointment date for a residency interview of March 10, 2010. The Sala IV constitutional court has ruled repeatedly that such interviews must be scheduled at a reasonable time in the future. So more and more immigration customers are using court appeals to obtain action.

A new bill that would drastically revise financial requirements for would-be pensionado and rentista residents continues to advance in the legislature. It is on the verge of being presented to the full membership for a vote. Expats have sent letters and e-mails positing out the flaws but with little reaction.

Meanwhile, immigration enforcement is minimal. Many foreigners on tourist visas continue to work at the various gambling companies and tourist resorts. The government maintains its hands-off policy, mainly with Internet gambling.

As far as casino gambling, the Óscar Arias administration seems to have deep-sixed a decree that would cut back working hours, perhaps fearing hundreds of casino workers would be thrown out of their jobs.

Among those working in Internet gambling and casinos are some of the runaway moms for which Costa Rica has become famous. These are the women who did not like the legal procedures involved in a divorce or custody hearing in their home state and skipped to Costa Rica. Here the government rewards flight with refugee status, and women elsewhere are taking notice.

For the average Costa Rica, economic conditions continue to deteriorate. Jobs are being lost. Scotia Bank sent 300 to the unemployment category Friday. Other companies plan cuts.

For U.S. expats,  the economy to watch is the one in the United States because their retirement funds or pensions are at stake. That includes Social Security and Medicaid. Others are more concerned about their investment portfolio which probably has taken a 10 to 50 percent hit in the last two months.

Then there is the overriding fear that the U.S. dollar is being quietly devalued by excessive spending in Washington D.C. This is a real fear for those on fixed incomes.

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Costa Rica has first day
in World Court over river

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica had the first of three days of arguments before the World Court in the Hague Monday to press its case for free transit on the Río San Juan. The case seeks to reestablish rights acquired over the years on the Nicaraguan river. The national boundary is the rivers' south bank and not the center.

Costa Rica also has an appearance today in the court and a summary scheduled for March 9. The Nicaraguan lawyers have equal time. Costa Rican officials said they expect the court to make a decision sometime during 2009.

The case has been many years in the making. Periodically Nicaraguan officials try to restrict the travel of Costa Ricans, Costa Rican boats and, more recently, the transit of armed Costa Rican police officers on the river.

Costa Rica contends free passage is guaranteed by a number of international treaties. Further, officials have said that the river is the most efficient way to travel there and that policemen need to have their weapons in the area that is relatively lawless.

Edgar Ugalde Álvarez, a vice minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, is the lead presenter on the team that Costa Rica has assembled.

Prison proposed in bill
on campaign contributions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A committee in charge of reforming the election laws has decided to specify prison terms for those members of the political parties who accept illegal private contributions to campaigns. The revision would also include the candidates themselves as those who would face a criminal case. The committee is the Comisión Permanente Especial de Reformas Electorales y Partidos Políticos.

Off-the-books donations to political candidates seem to be the rule rather than the exception in Costa Rican politics. In addition, donations from foreign sources are supposed to be illegal.

Under the revision being considered by the committee, the prison term could be from two to six years.  Also approved by the committee is a penalty of from two months to a year for a party treasure who failed to file the correct list of donations.

The penalties will be up for review when the committee decides to vote the entire revision to the floor of the Asamblea Legislativa. And then the full legislature will get a crack at revising the bill.

Environmental minister has
final say on tuna cages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An environmental group said Monday that the fate of a proposed tuna rearing facility in the Gulfo Dulce is squarely in the hands of Roberto Dobles, the environmental minister.

The group, Programa Resturación de Tortugas Marinas, said that the project has been approved by the Secretaria Técnica Nacional Ambiental but the group said that the approval was faulty. The project now goes to Dobles, minister of Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The tuna project proposes to install 10 tuna cages at the mouth of the Golfo Dulce to fatten yellow fin tuna provided by local fishermen. The project was suspended by court order May 9, 2007 due to a series of inconsistencies referring to contamination threats to the surrounding ecosystem and its impact on sea turtles, said the organization.

The group said that the Secretaria Técnica did not address these inconsistences in its Feb. 16 decision even though the Sala IV constitutional court said it should. “It’s incoherent how SETENA chooses not to address the constitutional court’s doubts, while at the same time recognizing the project’s viability without even researching certain technical criteria that might show how the tuna cages will impact the Golfo Dulce,” said Miguel Gómez, the Programa's political campaigns coordinator.

The Programa fears that the waste generated by the fish in the cages will affect the turtle nesting on beaches nearby. The Programa was joined in the court appeal by the Asociación de Vecinos de Punta Banco. Granjas Atuneras Golfito S.A. is the firm that wants to build the cages.

Our reader's opinion
Courts need to resolve
domestic cases or else . . . .

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The Costa Rican courts needs to figure out that when it comes to laws and putting people out of homes that they built or paid for sooner or later blood will be shed.

One day the Gringo or Gringa who was taken advantaged of will just spend a few hundred dollars and have the boyfriend, wife or girlfriend disappear. In the world that we are now living in and the problems with the world economy, more North Americans and Europeans will move here to escape the change that is in process in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Most have lost their jobs, only have a small amount of money to retire on, are under stress from the changes going on and are on a fixed pension. Not all of the people who come here are going to go thru the process of thousands of dollars on lawyers but rather just fix the problem themselves.

Costa Rica needs to come to grips with reality and do something before someone gets hurt. The court system here is not stupid and must put a stop to this type of robbery.  I know there are always three sides to every story, each of the sides and then the truth.
Greg Bianchi

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Costa Rica
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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 43

is cheaper

Transport officials have let contracts to private firms to mark rail crossings on the new San José-Heredia line that will go into service by early April.

Officials are installing vertical crossing markers made from recycled plastic instead of aluminum to reduce theft.

The ministry has been criticized for not installing crossing gates. The valley train periodically smashes a vehicle and three persons have died.

rail crossing
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes photo

Police shoot it out with bandits after Santa Ana robbery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men broke into a Santa Ana home Friday night, hit the occupant on the head and took two flat screen televisions. But police intervened a short time later and engaged the men in a shootout.

Two suspects were wounded and two fled, according to the Fuerza Pública. The only casualty on the side of the police was a patrol car that took bullets in the tire, the body and the windshield.

The home invasion took place in the neighborhood of Quintas Don Lalo in Santa Ana centro between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Police did not give the identity of the homeowner but other sources said the home had been the site of invasions twice before. Such crimes are common in Santa Ana and
Escazú. The bandits wore ski masks and carried handguns.

The Fuerza Pública said a man with the last names of  Masis Sukin suffered two bullet wounds to the back and a companion, identified by the last names of Rojas Martínez, suffered a bullet wound to the right leg above the knee.

Police learned of the crime while it was taking place and set up roadblocks. When the bandits arrived at the blocked street, the shootout took place, police said.

One of the men who fled may have been wounded, police said. When they inspected the suspects' vehicle police reported they found ski masks, 9-mm pistols and a scanner radio.

The wounded men went to Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Oxcart parade, festivities will inaugurate boyero monument
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is no community more identified with the boyero and the oxcart than San Antonio de Escazú.

The concept of the brightly painted carreta originated in Escazú at the turn of the 20th century. And the parade of oxcarts each year on the Dia del Boyero runs from the center of Escazú uphill to San Antonio where the local priests bless the carts and the animals.

The boyero has the same mystique as a U.S. cowboy. The bueyes, the large oxen, pulled the carreta loaded with coffee, the golden grain, to the Pacific ports until the train arrived.

So it is in San Antonio Thursday that a massive monument
to the boyeros and their animals and equipment will be unveiled.  The monument is a 65-meter-long (213-foot) work by painter Mario Parra Brenes.

The unveiling will be preceded by a parade of oxcarts from the center of Escazú to San Antonio. Coincidentally, Sunday is the 27th Dia del Boyero, and a more elaborate and larger parade of bueyes, oxcarts and drivers will follow the same route.

Local officials will be at the unveiling Thursday, and a play will be presented, appropriately called "El Camino," with Carmen Salazar as the lead. There also will be live music and folk dancing.

The parade starts at 8:30 and the festivities in San Antonio are scheduled to start at 10 a.m.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 43

Uncertainties linger over México's petroleum resources
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico has announced the allocation of more than 170 new sites for oil and gas development in an area in the country's northeast region. This comes at a time when production at the country's main field is falling dramatically, leading some analysts to say that the oil exporter could become an oil importer within five years. At least one Mexican governor is disputing that grim vision and calling for more investment in energy development.

Coming before an audience of energy industry representatives and academics at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, the governor of Mexico's Veracruz state, Fidel Herrera Beltran, hailed the new opening in his nation's oil sector.

"It is a great time to invest in Mexico in areas that were closed or not open before," said Herrera Beltran.

Herrera Beltran said an energy reform bill passed by the Mexican congress last year after heated debate has opened the way to some limited partnerships with foreign companies in Mexico's oil and gas fields. The Mexican constitution establishes all energy resources as state owned and, until now, the government-owned oil company, Pemex, has offered only contract work to outside companies.

But Mexico's situation has changed in recent years as production at its main field, called Cantarell, has declined. Since Pemex lacks the technology to explore and develop deep-water fields, some international experts have said the country's oil exporting days were coming to an end.

But, in an interview, Herrera Beltran hailed the development of newly discovered oil deposits in Chicontepec in his state that may offset the decline in other fields.

"The acknowledged amount of oil and gas is about four times what we had in Cantarell," he said. "So that at the same time Cantarell is running out, Chicontepec will be taking off. Not only in the continental area, but also offshore drilling is at this very moment taking place."

But the recent reform does not allow joint partnerships with private oil companies just yet and that may complicate the
Chicontepec investment picture. Herrera Beltran said state-owned companies like Brazil's Petrobras may be among the first invited in to help Mexico develop its assets.

"Mexico is now open to joint ventures with other state-owned oil companies such as Petrobras," said Herrera Beltran. "In the offshore drilling, we will necessarily have partners to do that. Certain areas of the oil chain are open to investment to bring in through Pemex or with Pemex technology and investment."

But most international oil analysts are not as optimistic about Mexico's plans to develop new fields. Some still believe the country will have trouble meeting its own rapidly rising demand for oil and soon become a minor exporter.

Baker Institute energy analyst Amy Jaffe, who helped organize Thursday's conference on energy policy in Latin America, says much depends on what Mexican political leaders do next.

"I think the fundamental principle is what becomes Mexican government policy," said Ms. Jaffe. "Because we have seen over the last few years the lack of ability for the government to reform Pemex and to come up with a productive system for investment."

Ms. Jaffe says that if the initial, limited reform passed last year is not followed by more substantive reforms and a clear opening to outside investment, Mexico could cease being an oil exporter and even become an oil importer to meet its own domestic needs.

"That is going to have severe fiscal consequences for the government and maybe that will help focus peoples' minds on why reform is necessary," she said.

Mexico is currently one of the top oil exporters to the United States, but Mexicans pay more at the gasoline pump than their neighbors across the border because Mexico lacks refinery capacity and sends much of its crude to other countries to be refined.

Herrera Beltran says Mexico is on the right path to reforming its energy sector and is also developing a variety of other sustainable energy sources including ethanol from sugar cane, geothermal and wind power.

Cuban cabinet changes are first shakeup by Raúl Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba's President Raúl Castro has reassigned several top government ministers in the first personnel shakeup since he took office last year.

Cuban state media reported that the changes included 10 ministers and were intended to create a smaller, more efficient government structure. Named in the announcement were Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque -- prominent officials who have stood out because they are younger than many others in Castro's ruling circle.

The report said Pérez Roque, who was a personal secretary to former Cuban President Fidel Castro, was being replaced as foreign minister, a position he held for nearly a decade. It said the 57-year-old Lage will no longer serve as cabinet secretary.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst for the Lexington Institute near Washington, says it is unclear what will happen with Pérez Roque. But he says Lage continues to hold a key role in the government. "He retains his job as vice president of the council of state, which is a much more important position, which, in fact, puts him in line of succession for the presidency," he said.

The announcement named several other ministries,
including the offices of finance, food and fishing and heavy industry.

Since Raúl Castro formally took over Cuba's presidency in February of last year, observers have been watching for the signs of change in the government that had been ruled for decades by his brother, Fidel. The aging ex-leader has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in 2006.

Peters says there are no real surprises in Monday's announcement because many of the individuals named to head the ministries are veterans in the Cuban government. He says the changes show Raúl Castro is following through on a promise to make the government more nimble and responsive to people's concerns. But Peters says it does not mean break with the policies set out by Fidel Castro.

"To me, it would be something to get worked up about if there was a clear sign in here that there was a change in direction in the government. But there is no sign of that," he said.

Peters says many analysts in the United States are watching Havana for a change in tone toward Washington, now that the U.S has a new president. But he cautions that the reorganization in Cuba does not necessarily indicate a thaw in the decades-old tensions between the two governments.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 3, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 43

A.M. Costa Rica

users 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 week day.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

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.

Minority Chamber plans
trade mission to San José

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Minority Chamber of Commerce kicks off the first U.S. trade mission to Costa Rica, this week.  The mission’s goals include increasing export opportunities for U.S minority companies, investors recruitment and advocacy on behalf of the chamber’s international programs.

An estimated 20 U.S. minority companies will have a chance to explore new opportunities in Costa Rica, and will gain firsthand market experience through meetings with key government officials and potential business partners, said the chamber.

The objective of the mission is to assist U.S minority exporters and importers in establishing representatives in Costa Rica, said the chamber, adding that this is because many of these firms do not have the resources or experience to go into the international marketplace and locate a representative without assistance.

“Costa Rica’s economic growth rate rose by 6.8 percent and their commercial development is diversified with tourism/hospitality services, information technology, and medical equipment/instrumentation taking prominent roles," said Doug Mayorga, national director for the Minority Chamber of Commerce.

The trade group will be headquartered at the Hotel Radisson Royal, said the Miami-based chamber.

The chamber also said it was opening a trade office in Escazú as of March 20 in the HSBC building near Muiltiplaza.

Woman stabbed to death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man confronted an ex-girlfriend on the public street in Barrio El Carmen in Puntarenas early Monday and stabbed her multiple times resulting in her death.

The victim was Lennia Serrano Villegas, 34. The Fuerza Pública detained the attack suspect nearby. He was identified as a 35-year-old with the last name of Jiménez Zamora.

The dead woman had two children.

The Fuerza Pública said the man fled the scene waving a knife in his hands and then threw the weapon into the nearby inlet when police closed in.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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