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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, March 9, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 49          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Our reader's opinion
Writer makes a case against sportsbook deal
By a former sportbook employee*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

It is incredulous that Costa Rica will offer the sportbooks, a supposedly $7 billion-a-year industry a maximum $48,000 per year flat tax which equals about the salary of one middle management employee. ("Lawmakers cut sportsbook a special deal in tax plan", A.M. Costa Rica, Feb. 8, 2006)

In order to better understand that environment, I worked with a sportsbook for a short while. I am not a disgruntled, fired employee. 

And I do not believe that Costa Rica should boot them out of the country. But, online gaming must be both regulated and made accountable.

Costa Rica, at minimum, should perform background checks on management, ownership, make sure the companies are financially secure, insured/bonded, wagers won are paid, that winners are not banned from wagering, that money is not being laundered, act as an arbitrator for the many complaints and, yes, that the employees are legal of which a good 30 percent where I worked are not.

Right now with an office, a computer and a few phones anyone can become a sportsbook, and, just like the big boys, advertise in big letters, "We come under the gaming laws of the Republic of Costa Rica." They neglect to mention there are no gaming laws.

Way too many of these groups have taken the money and run. Way too many. They don't run from the country but rather to another part of San José to do it again or start selling online pharmaceuticals.

Who pays? Costa Rica's international image pays dearly. Not to mention the millions of gamblers, mostly Americans where sportsbook is illegal, people who have their deposits robbed or odds of winning

This, too, is permitted under the Costa Rican gaming laws.

rigged and the employees who show up for work only to find the doors are locked.

The clear message of the Asamblea is that for want of meaningful employment for our young people, Costa Rica is willing to be extorted. Among my friends and acquaintances who work at sportsbooks, no Costa Rican has even reached mid-level management and, at best, three are supervisors. Working sportsbook is a dead end job for Costa Ricans and provides no training except perhaps to telemarket at another dead end job.

With controls, fees and regular taxation like any other business, those sportbooks that are flim flam operators will move on, but those who are legit will stay. After all, they have tried just about every other country possible before settling on Costa Rica. (Cayman, Panama, Belize, Venezuela, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Nicaragua, etc.)

* The writer asked that his name be withheld because he fears retribution.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 49

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Judicial agent kills
one of three assailants

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three bandits picked on the wrong person Wednesday afternoon.

The men in a car spotted a couple walking in a San José residential neighborhood. They pulled over and drew guns. But so did the victim, who turned out to be an agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization on his day off.

The agent mortally wounded one the assailants and took three bullets himself.

A short time after the 1 p.m. shooting, police found the body of a man dumped near his home in Bello Horizonte, Escazú. They assume he was one of the bandits.

The attempted stickup took place in Barrio San Cayetano near the Escaret baseball stadium.

The wounded police agent was identified as César Prado who works with the Sección de Capturas for the investigative agency. The shootout started when two men got out of the car, produced their own weapons and began firing, officials said. Prado reported he fired just once.

Prado suffered wounds in the shoulder, left ribs and arm. He was reported in Hospital Calderón Guardia without complications.

Playing in the sand
will be for charity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Playas del Coco will host a sand sculpture contest the last weekend in March.

The event is being sponsored by the Projecto de Luz of the Lion's Club, the Asociacion de Desarrollo de Playa Hermosa and Utopia Magazine.

Organizers said that the event would begin March 24 with a beach cleanup.

The full title of the event is the Gulf of Papagayo’s 1st Clean Beach and International Sand Sculpture Festival.

Organizers said that international sand scuplputure artists would participate but that amateurs would have a chance. too.

This is a pioneering event that will be the first of its kind in the region and an example of grassroots community action bringing about positive change," said organizers in a release. "With the money we raise we hope to fund an education drive and recycling campaign that will teach people how they can make a difference for the better and so that the thousands of tourists who flock here every year, keep doing so."

More information is available at 670-1522 or 670-1530.

Alleged karate team
will be coming home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 20 Costa Ricans who tried to slip through México on their way to the United States are headed back home.

The foreign mininstry here said Wednesday that it had received word that the men would be expelled and placed on a Costa Rica-bound plane.

Anabella Castro, Costa Rica's consul general in México, said that three of the men admitted to Mexican immigration officials that the plan was to sneak illegally into the United States, according to the foreign ministry. The men pretended to be a karate team from Pérez Zeledón, an area in south Costa Rica that sends many illegal aliens north.

Mexican immigration officials said they encountered inconsistencies in the tales the men told as they tried to enter the country.

Our reader's opinion

Taxi license described
as political booty

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This past Tuesday the streets of downtown San Jose were jammed with protesting red taxis, the officially licensed ones. The week before the same streets, though not quite so jammed, had pirate taxis protesting in them. What’s all the protest about?

As most government regulated activities are ones of special privileges granted, the “privileged” don’t want intruders taking part of their economic pie. The intruders, the pirate taxis, contend that the “privileged” have it too good, want part of the pie and besides, the public is being ripped off by these privileges, citing, for example, that the official service is often selective – if the user’s destination coincides with where the drivers wants to go, he’ll take you, if not, no.

Plus the prices the “privileged” charge is unnecessarily high anyway and often gouging, which frequently occurs when the meter happens not to be working and they charge what the market will bear, especially on a rainy Friday afternoon around 5 o’clock and that they, the pirates, are filling a public service gap that government regulations intentionally overlook. The pirates’ point of view of ripping off the public must contain certain validity, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to find enough customers, notwithstanding that their vehicles are generally in poorer condition, uninsured, and many drivers have an unsavory look about them, to make the business of hauling passengers from Point A to Point B worthwhile.

What is really being manifested by these protests is the real issue of the public’s interest versus the interests of special groups, who by giving their vote or campaign contributions to a particular political party have bestowed upon them privileges. It should not be surprising to know that many of official taxi concessions are not even given to individuals who are owner/drivers, but to non-drivers well plugged into the party in power, who lease out their vehicles. It’s all part of the political booty system built and maintained by political parties in Costa Rica. How long will it be before the country can no longer support such a privileging giving setup and start coming apart at the seams? Maybe it already is.

Robert Nahrgang S.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 49


A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Playas del Coco is one of the communities being turned from a tiny fishing village to retirement center.
Real estate market here dependent on local factors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residential housing prices are more vulnerable to local conditions than what happens up north.

That's a fact in conflict with the usual theory that housing prices in the United States and Canada fuel Costa Rica's housing boom, mainly on the Pacific coast. The anticipated slowdown in overheated real estate markets to the north will put the brakes on Costa Rica's market, so the theory goes.

An analysis of the news

The more pessimistic views in the north suggest that real estate prices might decline and remain flat over the next two years while some overheated markets might experience as much as a 10 percent reduction in price.

A trend analysis comes from Ben Innes-Ker, CEO and director of the Bloomington, Ind., motivatedsellermagnet.net:

“Home prices in major city markets continue to increase dramatically higher each year. This kind of growth cannot be sustained long term and many real estate investment experts feel the end of the current bubble is closer than you might think.”

Those who project this argument on Costa Rica think that the current U.S. market is what provides the funds for residential development here. But the growth in residential housing needs here stem from the massive graying of North America with its 96 million residents who were between 34 and 59 for the 2000 U.S. Census.

A small decline in resale values or a slight increase in mortgage interest rates are not going to dampen the plans of that fraction of gray Americans who choose to come to Costa Rica.

The evidence for this is a Central Valley real estate market that has been generally flat for the last 18 months even as U.S. markets post 12 percent annual gains in housing prices.

In addition, the market here is fueled by large amounts of money of dubious origin being applied to what is called land banking, or money laundering by investments in real estate. When the real estate project is eventually sold, the payoff is clean money of known origin.
In Costa Rica, local conditions, immigration policy, the proposed tax law and environmental conditions will have more of an impact on residential growth than shifts in the many regional real estate markets found in the United States and Canada.

Immigration changes are more likely to have a strong impact on the army of real estate salesmen who are living here and working illegally on tourism visas. The new immigration law, which goes into effect in August makes no changes to the current pensionado status. A foreigner still can obtain residency here by showing a verifiable monthly income of $600.

Married rentistas may have to show a second stash of $60,000 to gain residency for a spouse, but legal experts are already trying to find ways around that possible change.

The  tax law is to be feared by many, but retirees living happily at the nation's beaches are likely to be spared much impact.  Unless they engage in paid work, part-time residents who spend 183 days or less here will not be touched by the pending tax legislation.

The proposed law also includes a clause that lets persons over 65 escape a 10 percent capital gains tax on the sale of a principal residence.

Developers need not fear a capital gains tax because what they earn already is taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

Speculators, such as those buying up Pacific condos a dozen at a time for resale, probably will have to pay the capital gains tax, if the law is approved. But they still will get 90 percent of any appreciation.

Overbuilding is the real danger. However, the government and the courts have frozen new beach concessions, thereby slowing residential growth without even trying to do so. And the availability of ocean view property continues to dwindle even as the prices soar.

Utilities, such as water and power, have more of an impact of residential development here than foreign real estate markets. And the few major developers can use up existing inventories of new homes and condos simply by delaying the development of future projects.

With the kind of flexibility, the chance of serious overbuilding seems unlikely.

Costa Rican peppers get a break in U.S. Medfly war
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will permit Costa Rican producers to export certain types of peppers to the United States.

The department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is fighting a long battle with exotic fruit fly pests that can come in on certain types of vegetables.

Peppers also will be permitted without treatment from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua as long as certain conditions are met.

The product has to be grown in approved production sites that are registered with the national plant protection organization of the exporting country, said the department. The peppers are also subject to pre-harvest inspection, trapping and shipping procedures, it said.

The U.S. Embassy here said in a statement that Costa Rica was anxious to get favorable treatment for its peppers (chiles in Spanish) during negotiations for the free trade treaty with the United States.

The agricultural department is launching the Exotic Fruit Fly Strategic Plan, an integrated approach that incorporates surveillance activities, control programs and regulatory actions to safeguard American agriculture against a number of fruit fly species, it said.

Among the aspects of the plan is supporting the development of fruit fly detection and control
 programs in the Caribbean Basin and Central America to reduce the threat the flies present, said the department in a notice of rulemaking.

The department gave this description:

The Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata), commonly called Medfly, or Moscamed in Spanish, is one of the world's most destructive agricultural pests. The female Medfly attacks ripening fruit, piercing the soft skin and laying eggs in the puncture. The eggs hatch into larvae (maggots), which feed inside the fruit pulp.

In the United States, the Medfly could attack peaches, pears, plums, apples, apricots, avocados, citrus, cherries, figs, grapes, guavas, kumquats, loquats, nectarines, peppers, persimmons, tomatoes and several nuts.

The Medfly originated in Africa. It has since spread throughout the Mediterranean region, southern Europe, the Middle East, Western Australia, South and Central America and Hawaii. In general, it is found in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

The Medfly became established in Hawaii in 1910. Hawaii remains infested with this pest, and no eradication program is currently under way. The first of numerous U.S. mainland infestations occurred in Florida in 1929.

However, state and federal eradication programs in California, Florida and Texas have prevented the Medfly from becoming established.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, March 9, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 49

Costa Rica criticized on prisons and judicial delays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prison overcrowding, substantial judicial delays, antiquated libel laws and domestic violence against women are some of the human rights problems that the U.S. State Department found in Costa Rica.

The department in its annual report on human rights practices also cited child prostitution and child labor as serious problems.

However, the department did note that Costa Rican officials have reduced prison overcrowding to 4
percent and that comprehensive efforts were initiated to eradicate child labor and reduce the commercial exploitation of children. The full report is here.

Of child exploitation, the report said this:

"Hundreds of investigations into the commercial sexual exploitation of children were initiated, but few resulted in successful prosecution as a result of governmental inefficiency and inability to protect witnesses. Minimal coordination among government offices responsible for trafficking-related offenses also frustrated enforcement efforts."

U.S. human rights report focuses on usual suspects
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The majority of Western Hemisphere governments respected the human rights of their citizens in 2005, although problems persist in many of these countries and in some neighboring countries, according to the U.S. State Department.

The 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released March 8, gave Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela poor marks for their human-rights practices.

Begun in 1977, the reports describe the performances of 196 countries in implementing their international commitments on human rights. Since their inception, the reports have become an essential element of the United States' effort to promote respect for human rights worldwide and have served as a foundation for cooperative action among governments, organizations and individuals seeking to end abuses and strengthen the capacity of countries to protect fundamental human rights, the State Department said.

The report said that in Cuba, the government's human rights record remained poor, and the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro continued to commit "numerous, serious abuses."  The report on Cuba said 333 political prisoners and detainees were being held at the end of 2005.  Currently 60 of the 75 peaceful human-rights activists, journalists, and opposition political figures arrested and convicted during a 2003 government crackdown -- mostly on charges of violating national security and aiding a foreign power -- remain in prison.

In addition to the denial of citizens' rights to change their government and frequent harassment of political opponents by government-recruited mobs, other human-rights abuses in Cuba include severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, denial of the right to peaceful assembly and association and a refusal to recognize domestic human-rights groups or to permit them to function legally, the State Department report said.

Although there were some improvements in a few areas, the State Department reported that the human-rights record of the Dominican Republic also remained poor in 2005.

Despite the Dominican government's new Criminal Procedures Code and the government's improved capacity to fight trafficking in persons, serious problems remained.

The human-rights abuses reported in the Dominican Republic in 2005 included unlawful killings committed by security forces; torture, beatings and other abuse of suspects, detainees and prisoners by security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention of suspects; lengthy pretrial detention and long trial delays; and self-censorship practiced by journalists and editors.

In Haiti, although systematic state-orchestrated abuses stopped under the nation's interim government during 2005, the government's  human-rights record 
remained poor as "retribution killings and politically motivated violence continued throughout the country," the State Department said.

Among the abuses reported in Haiti were arbitrary killings and disappearances committed by the Haitian National Police, self-censorship practiced by most journalists and widespread corruption in all branches of government.

In Venezuela, politicization of the judiciary, restrictions on the media, and harassment of the political opposition continued to characterize the 2005 human rights situation, said the State Department.  The report on Venezuela added that the Venezuelan government used the justice system selectively against the political opposition, and the report also indicated that implementation of a 2004 media law threatened to limit press freedom.

Other abuses reported in Venezuela included a corrupt, inefficient and highly politicized judicial system, dismissal or forced retirements of judges for political reasons and the unlawful taking of private property, including failure to make property restitution in such cases, the State Department said.

Although the government generally respected the rights of its citizens in El Salvador, widespread impunity and corruption undermined the protection of human rights.  The State Department said that persistent impunity and corruption also affected significantly the human-rights situation in Nicaragua and exacerbated serious human-rights problems in Honduras.  Corruption and substantial inadequacies in the police and judicial sectors, widespread societal violence and impunity for criminal activity continued in Guatemala as well, the State Department said.

In Colombia, although serious problems remain, the government's respect for human rights continued to improve in 2005, the State Department found. The report on Colombia explained that although all participants in the nation's internal armed conflict committed human rights violations, the majority of violations were committed by Colombia's illegal armed groups.  The Colombia report also noted improvements in human-rights categories related to the government's concentrated military offensive as well as ongoing demobilization negotiations with the illegal armed group known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

But the State Department reported that even though "civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted in violation of state policy."

In Brazil and Mexico, the State Department found that the federal governments generally respected the human rights of citizens, but added that violations persisted at state levels.

The Western Hemisphere portion of the 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practiced is available on the State Department’s Web site.

Jo Stuart
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