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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, March 9, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 49           E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Unhappy Paquera residents halt ferry operations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ferry that takes tourists and other visitors to the southern half of the Nicoya Peninsula has been out of service for more than a day because residents in Paquera have taken over the dock near that community and are blocking access.

The Fuerza Pública has sent reinforcements, although there have been no reports of violence. Some damage has been reported to the docks.

A spokesman for Naviera Tambor S.A., the ferry company, confirmed the situation Thursday night but said he hoped for good news in the morning.

The dispute is part of a long-running controversy between the ferry company and a competitor, the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera, which ran the Ferry Peninsula. Both companies used to operate ferries at the same time.

Naviera Tambor won a new concession from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Ferry Peninsula no longer has the right to move passengers and vehicles. Paquera residents say that much of their income stems from the association and the Peninsula ferry service.

Residents were picketing Casa Presidencial last week.

One of the reasons that Naviera Tambor obtained.
the entire concession is because the company agreed to bring in a new $5.7 million ferry. It is the Tambor II that can carry 170 vehicles and 500 passengers. The firm continues to use its older ferry, too. As many as 5,000 persons a day travel by ferry between Puntarenas and Paquera.

The roads from the north on the Nicoya Peninsula are deficient, and much time can be saved taking the ferry by persons headed to Cóbano, Tambor, Montezuma and Mal Pais. There also are docks at Naranjo further north on the peninsula.

The ferry concession has become political with the Partido Acción Ciudadana taking the side of the residents against the current administration.

Naviera Tambor has faced allegations that it is not 60 percent owned by Costa Ricans, a legal requirement for ferry contractors. The company also was the object of a tax raid in December. Some 19 carriages and harnesses were found in a storage unit near Tambor. The company said the goods had come from Europe on the Tambor II when it arrived Nov. 1 but that the goods were bound for Nicaragua.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes awarded the concession to Naviera in December 2003.  The Asociación de Desarrollo filed no less than six appeals to the Sala IV constitutional court, the ministry said. But the concession has finally gone into effect.

Sunday is the day everyone wants to be a boyero
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some real monsters are taking to the road Sunday. These are the 1,500-plus-pound oxen who will be in the line of march to celebrate the Día Nacional de Boyero.

The boyero or ox cart handler is a mystical figure like the North American cowboy or the Russian cossack. Sunday in Escazú everyone will want to be a boyero. In fact, anyone can.

One of the highlights of the two-day celebration is an animal auction at 5 p.m. Saturday. Visitors who do not want to go home with a hulking pet that eats like several horses should keep their hands in thier pockets. The event is on the north side of the Iglesia Católica de San Antonio de Escazú.

The auction is to raise money that will go toward reconstruction of the church towers. San Antonio is the spiritual home of the boyero.

The celebration starts at noon Saturday with some fireworks and marches of masked figures through the streets.

A horse ride takes place at 6 p.m. from Escazú Centro to San Antonio. At the same time there will be a Mass in memory of departed boyeros at the San Antonio church.

After the Mass the celebration continues with folkloric dancing and a video displaying history of the ox cart in Costa Rica. Th evening is topped off with a fireworks display organizers call grandioso.
Typical Costa Rican oxcart
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Typical Costa Rican oxcart

Sunday is the time for the big ox cart parade. Boyeros who sleep near the church will be awakened with music at 5 a.m., in time to feed and prepare their animals. The parade goes from Escazú Centro uphill to San Antonio where the boyeros, the animals and the carts pass by the church and are blessed.

The parade awards will be handed out about 12:30 p.m., and the rest of the day until 8 p.m. will be filled with music, typical foods and sales of art.

The boyero and his oxen and cart have been declared intangible human heritage by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The brightly painted ox cart is a symbol of Costa Rica around the world.

The carts used to carry coffee from the Central Valley to the Pacific port. Now the animals are more of a hobby, which requires devotion to provide the training and care. However, some animals still are used for work around the farms and ranches.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 9, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 49

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Diesel price is going up
and more may follow

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency has hiked the cost of diesel again. The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said the per liter price would increase 13 colons from 349 to 362. There are about 520 colons to the U.S. dollar.

Jet fuel also is gong up, from 380 to 394 colons per liter, said the agency.

The new prices are expected to go into force about March 15 after they have been published in the La Gaceta official government newspaper.

The agency said that Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo asked for the increase due to a hike in the world price of petroleum. That increase is being blamed on the cold weather and subsequent demand for fuel in the Eastern United States.

The refinery is seeking increases on all other petroleum products but these requests have not been considered yet.

Costa Rica imports all its petroleum. Environmental activists were successful in shutting down an experimental well planned by a U.S. firm off the coast of Limón Province.

Our reader's opinion

Change will take work
to restore the peace

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I've been reading A.M. Costa Rica now for at least a year. What I have seen develop is a criticism that is well founded. Having been born in Costa Rica, I now live in the U.S.A. and, aside from a visit in 1995 to Costa Rica, I've not been back in 41 years.
Yes, I was quite young when I left. But there are still quite a few memories of a country that was once peaceful and quiet that no longer exists.
The main problem here with regards to efficiency, has so much to do with the culture. Everyone has become accustomed to things running the way they do.
Examples abound left and right:

• The birth certificates expire, hence, you need to get an official copy, and oh yes, the stamps one has to obtain from the notary . . . and on and on . . .

• The bribe one has to give to the hospital attendant in San Juan de Dios just so that you can actually get in to see your critically ill grandmother. And if that person decides that he doesn't like you, then no amount of bribery will get you in. You have to know another person somewhere else in another section of the hospital that is willing to take a bribe to get you in.
What is it going to take for a model of efficiency to take hold? A change in the psyche of Costa Ricans. That they are willing to embrace integrity for the sake of sanity. As things are going right now, you cannot expect a change to take place if the ball keeps going around and around doing the same thing each and every day. There must be a change for insanity to stop.
I really appreciate your A.M. Costa Rica, as people's eyes continue to be opened as to what makes a paradise into a very unpleasant place. Change is possible. Costa Rica regaining her peace is possible. It is just going to take a lot of hard work, the right kind of hard work.
Luis E Chaves Sr.
Southern California U.S.A

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 9, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 49

Suspects held as members of a gang that stole from tourists
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators raided what looked like a luggage store Thursday.

The targets were a husband and wife who, agents say, made their living stealing the possessions of visitors at Central Valley hotels.

Agents pulled suitcase after suitcase from the living quarters in Paso Ancho. This is the home of Colombian  Juan Hidalgo Galán, 35, and his wife,  Ruth Moran, 32, a Nicaraguan. A third individual, Celis Perdomo, 34, a Colombian, was detained in south San José.

The main targets were tourists. The Judicial Investigating Organization said the band of thieves preyed on tourists who were not paying attention to their possessions. They never used violence, agents said.
The haul from Paso Ancho included four video cameras, three still cameras, and four Ipods. There also was diving equipment, mountain climbing gear, cases for portable computers, makeup bags and $9,000 in cash.

There also was 500,000 colons, nearly $1,000 more.

Agents said the investigation had been going on for six months. A big break came when a security camera in a downtown hotel got images of thieves. Agents did not discount the possibility that thieves had inside help at some of the hotels.

Now agents have the problem of trying to return the stolen items to their owners. Many probably are out of the country.

Agents said that possible victims can view the loot at the Seccion de Hurtos de Delitos contra la Propiedad of the Judicial Investigating Organization, but they will need some kind of documentation that shows they are the owner.

Internet frauds and identity thefts beginning to rear their heads in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials at the Banco de Costa Rica were upset Thursday to learn that someone had copied their electronic banking page and was trying to get customers to surrender their user name and password.

This type of scam goes on daily on the Internet, but it appears that this is the first time someone tried to use a Costa Rican bank. Pay Pal is a major target for such criminals, and A.M. Costa Rica gets perhaps 30 fraudulent messages from persons pretending to be from Pay Pal or eBay daily.

In the case of Banco de Costa Rica, an e-mail urged
customers to check their account on the bank's Web page, but the electronic link provided went to the fake page.

Also Thursday, Cero Riesgo Información Crediticia S.A., the Costa Rican credit bureau, issued an alert for identity theft. The company said that during the last few weeks some lending agencies had been approached for loans by persons who had stolen the identity of third parties. It said that in 2006 it handled 35 cases like this.

One way to avoid identity theft scams is to subscribe to its service that provides photographs of credit seekers, said the company. The company collects material from a number of sources including the photos that Costa Ricans have on their identity cédula.

The 'blue jeans revolution' is example to be followed
Recently I have had the good luck to become a pen pal of Elena N., who teaches linguistics at a university in Russia.  She is currently teaching a language and culture course on the relevancy of both Russia and Latin America to each other and to the rest of the world, which involves supervising a multi-media project ably run by her students.  

Our friendship began when she asked me to write about my first and then later impressions of Costa Rica.  I sent her a chapter of my book, then sent her a copy.  Elena has been using it in her class.  A chapter that intrigued the students concerned the pet peeves of Costa Ricans.  In their discussion they all agreed that Russians have pretty much the same pet peeves. In short, these two seemingly very different people are annoyed by the same “bad” habits people are guilty of.  The students seemed rather surprised at how similar they were.

A recent poll was taken of Costa Rican sense of wellbeing and what they consider to be the main problems they face in this country today.  Of primary concern was unemployment, next came crime and violence, then the high cost of living and resulting poverty. They are also concerned with drug addiction and corruption (which are often related).  Concern about the quality of education was low on the list, and neither lack of good health care nor terrorism made the list at all. (The growing crime and violence and killer cars are enough to deal with.)

Thinking about the Russian students’ responses to Costa Rican pet peeves made me wonder how similar their responses would be to this questionnaire.  I am inclined to believe that feeling secure, having a decent job that pays enough to live, and decent medical care when one needs it are the main concerns of people throughout the world no matter what their nationality, culture or political structure. 

I also remember when I worked at the International House, a residence for university students from all over the world.  I sometimes would overhear my assistant telling students who came into her office that, in fact, we are all really the same the world over. We all want the same things in life, and therefore should get along.  Sometimes I couldn’t resist joining the conversation and saying that although I agree that we all may want the same things in this life and a happy afterlife, if it exists, we have different ways of getting them or there.  And therein lies the problem.  It is the different journeys we choose to take and not the destination that causes most of the problems between people and nations.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

It would be nice if we could all just take a leap of faith in ourselves and follow our own paths with confidence and without the need to coerce others to do the same — with one caveat: without harming others. (If you want to change somebody, be the example they want to emulate.) But that seems too much to ask of human beings or countries in this day and age — or in any age, for that matter.
When I was growing up in New York State, there were a number of different Protestant churches and one Catholic Church in the village where I lived.  There was neither a mosque nor a synagogue.  All of these churches were Christian. There was no proselytizing among the churches, but there was vandalism of the Catholic Church by those who disapproved of their way of worshipping.

Costa Rica, both the country and its people, do try to live to let live and lead only by example.  I am a great believer in that and sometimes think of it as the “blue jean revolution.”  Today, no matter where you go in the world you will see people wearing blue jeans — people of all nationalities, income and class and religion.  Jeans have been advertised, but not constantly or in your face, no proselytizing, and no coercing.  Jeans just proved to be a versatile pant and as more people wore them, the more others followed suit (or should I say pants?), and by now they are accepted as appropriate wear for almost all occasions.  And, of course, by now, I am way off the subject.

What I am trying to say is wouldn’t it be nice if we could just agree to disagree about trying to live a good life without insisting that my way be your way? And I hope Elena’s students find in this subject food for thought and discussion.  If you are interested in their Web site, write to me.                   

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.

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'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.'

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 9, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 49

Irregularities with Villalobos were not serious, regulator says
By Dennis Rogers
A.M. Costa Rica special correspondent

Henry Murillo, a government banking regulator, gave the history of his agency’s interest in the Ofinter currency exchange and the Villalobos high-interest investment operation. While irregularities around Ofinter and other Villalobos companies were detected, they were never considered serious enough for his agency, the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, to intervene, he said.

The agency, known as SUGEF, has authority over exchange houses which must be registered and maintain daily contact with the Banco Central. To maintain control over the amount of foreign currency in the country, the Banco Central buys the day’s net dollar positions, which must not vary more than a half a percent in either direction relative to the previous business day. On at least one occasion Ofinter got behind on its reports to the Banco Central, but these were quickly brought up to date following official notification, said Murillo.

Regular monitoring is part of the banking regulator’s duties, and SUGEF regularly sends monitors for as much as six weeks to watch activity at the institution. In the case of Ofinter, Murillo admitted that these only were present at the downtown office and not at the Mall San Pedro branch.

Other companies closely associated with Luis Enrique Villalobos did attract the attention of the authorities. The shell corporation Servicios de Soporte al Turismo S.A. had several months with activity of more than $1 million in deposits and withdrawals during 1998 and 1999, he said. SUGEF examined its accounts but did not attempt to determine the economic activity involved, he said. Agency employees also noticed the peculiar behavior of the Banco Nacional account used to provide the “guarantee” checks to individuals investors by Luis Enrique Villalobos — There were large numbers of checkbooks outstanding with few checks actually being changed or deposited, he said.

Following complaints by the family of Keith Nash, undercover functionaries visited the high-interest investment operation at the Mall San Pedro. It was determined there was capture of funds there, but as the investigators could not “close the circle” by tracking the money to any other activities and back again this did not qualify as financial intermediation and wasn’t under the authority of the agency, said Murillo. He also noted that the secretive nature of the operation made it difficult to monitor.
Nash is the elderly Canadian investor who became ill and Luis Enrique Villalobos told his customers that his son was in town trying to steal the father's investment. Nash is seeking return of his $180,000 deposit in a separate legal action.

The Nash case started before law officers raided Ofinter and the high-interest operation July 4, 2002.

To be able to pay 3 per cent interest monthly when the market was at 4 percent annually, any investment activity would be “highly unusual” and speculative, he said. When asked if that sort of movement would be considered financial intermediation, he agreed. However, SUGEF did not note such activity in the exchange house.

Murillo emphasized under questioning that the regulator did not force Ofinter to cease operations, as there was never any complaint directly related to the exchange house. The business closed in October 2002 and was deregistered shortly afterwards.

Ewald Acuña, attorney for the civil litigants of the case, arrived to question Murillo Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, but was not present the rest of the week.

The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras has been trying to avoid entanglements in the Villalobos case ever since the raid and subsequent collapse of both Ofinter and the high-interest operation in October 2002.

The agency even published an ad in a local newspaper shortly before Christmas in 2002. The agency said at the time that the kind of acceptance of money Villalobos did is not under the supervision of SUGEF or the Banco Central.

It also said that Investors who give money to firms not under the control of SUGEF assume all the risk, and the higher the interest rate the higher the risk.

Because the Villalobos operation was not registered as a bank or other financial institution, SUGEF said at that time it had no obligation to check upon it. 

The comments by SUGEF at that time were transformed by some Villalobos supporters to mean that the agency never found anything wrong with the operation run my Luis Enrique Villalobos. But what the agency said was that it never found anything wrong with Ofinter in its functions as a money exchange house.

Bush off to mend fences with lower priority Latin America
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush has embarked on a week-long tour of Latin America.  His first stop, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Bush came to office with a vow to make Latin America a policy priority.

"Our hemisphere is not going to be an afterthought for this administration," he said.  "One of the most important parts of our foreign policy will be to promote prosperity and peace and freedom throughout this hemisphere."

But everything changed Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck the United States.  Fighting terrorism soared to the top of the Bush administration agenda, along with promoting democracy in the Middle East.  Latin America was overshadowed by news of war and bloodshed, and some to the south began to believe they were being ignored.

White House aides say President Bush is making this trip in an effort to persuade America's neighbors to the south that he does care about their plight.

At a recent Washington address, the president indicated the journey will highlight, if not a policy shift, at least a change in focus. "The working poor of Latin America need change, and the United States of America is committed to that change," added Bush.

Bush will spend a lot of his time visiting programs that help the poor and the disenfranchised.  Instead of devoting most of his public comments to issues like free trade and counter-narcotics, he will use this trip to showcase his willingness to help the democracies of the region meet the basic needs of their people: education, health care and housing.
Cynthia Arnson is director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.  She says the Bush administration has realized that too many people in the region feel the move to democracy and free markets has done little if anything to improve their lives.

"It is a recognition at the highest levels of the U.S. government that there are other issues at play in the hemisphere than the ones the United States has traditionally focused on," she noted.

Arnson says the lack of progress has enabled a new political left to take hold in Latin America.  And no one exemplifies that new left better than the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.

"I think it is true that there is probably no issue that serves as a common denominator defining today's left in the region more than the desire to address the massive poverty and social injustice that exists in various degrees of severity throughout Latin America," she added.

The White House denies the president is going to Latin America to counter Hugo Chávez, and U.S. officials say they expect little mention of the Venezuelan leader.

What they do expect is an emphasis on the positive, as Bush stops at youth centers, visits farm cooperatives, and pays homage to the region's indigenous culture.  His travels will take him from Brazil to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and México for meetings with presidents from the political left to the right of center.

The aim may well be to show that Bush is willing to work with any hemispheric leader who believes in, what he calls, good governance. 

International Baptist Church plans an international day Sunday in Guachipelín
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The International Baptist Church in Guachipelín de Escazú will be celebrating the cultural diversity of the church with a special International Day Service Sunday. 

Although many members of the congregation are native English speakers from the United States and Canada, and the main worship services are in English, there are also many attendees for whom English is a second language, including Costa Ricans and other Latin-Americans and people from around the world.  

Currently there are at least 36 countries represented in the congregation. There will be a march of flags and many
members from other countries will be wearing their native dress.

Visitors are being encouraged to come in the traditional dress of their country. There will be a luncheon at 12:30 p.m. after the 11 a.m. worship service and those from other countries are encouraged to bring a dish of food from their native country to share at the luncheon.   Everyone is welcome, a spokesperson said.

International Baptist Church in is located in Guachipelín de Escazú, on the hillside west of Multiplaza on the north side of the Santa Ana highway.   For specific directions or more information call the church at 215-2117 or the pastor's cell phone at 365-1005.

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