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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, March 10, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 48      E-mail us
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Dancing dollar keeps expats and firms guessing
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The value of the dollar against the colon Tuesday fell to its lowest since the end of 2008 with an abrupt drop of almost two colons to 540.38. Volatility has been an issue in the four years since the Banco Central dropped a long-term policy of micro-devaluations.

Values here are the Banco Central's buy rate, the price at which the bank is buying dollars from the customer. Most expats will be selling dollars. News reports and accounting standards normally use the sell rate as a reference. For Tuesday, the sell rate was 550.41, so the “spread” or difference between the two rates was 10.03 colones. This is the profit margin for currency transactions. Retail banks tend to round exchange rates.

The dollar was as high as 572 in early January, making today’s rate down 5 percent in two months.

Instability has marked the last two years. For most of 2006, 2007, and the first half of 2008, the rate was in the neighborhood of 516. July 2008 saw it go from 521 to 544 in just three days.

After most of the rest of 2008 around 550, in late November the dollar fell to 525, including an unprecedented drop of 15 colons in one day. A week later it returned to 550.

This volatility is new for Costa Rican business and consumers. Following major macroeconomic problems in the early 1980s, the Banco Central responded with a program of mini devaluations designed to keep exports competitive in the face of internal inflation. During much of the period 1984-2006, each week the bank would devalue about a colon per dollar by decree and without regard for market conditions. For those with dollar incomes, this was very attractive as they were essentially insulated from local inflation.

In 2006 the Banco Central changed strategy and adopted a system of bands it would defend. Essentially the system of creeping devaluations was to continue, but the currency would be allowed to move within certain limits above and below the target. The bank would then intervene and buy or sell dollars to keep the exchange rate between the boundaries.

This mechanism was tested through a period of ups and downs in 2007 to 2009. At first, large amounts of speculative money entered the country
dancing dollar
 
for real estate and tourism infrastructure. The Banco Central was forced to buy up lots of dollars and issue colons to keep the currency from appreciating, which would damage other parts of the economy. Eventually in November 2007 the bank dropped from 517 to 496 the level it was defending the dollar vs. an appreciating colon, and the rate immediately went with it. This was met with howls of protest from industries whose financial planning was disrupted.

Then, with the collapse of the U.S. housing market and recession elsewhere, the flow suddenly reversed and the bank was forced to sell more than $450 million to keep the rate under the upper band, which itself was creeping upwards slightly all the while.

At least for the moment that situation has passed, and the drop in the exchange rate puts it away from a situation where the central bank officials feel a need to intervene. This is partly caused by higher colon interest rates and relatively low inflation that make it more attractive to hold colons.

Alberto Trejos, free-trade negotiator and minister of foreign commerce in the Abel Pacheco administration, said in a published presentation that his company CEFSA anticipates about 4 percent devaluation year-on-year, to about 594.7 per dollar at the end of 2010. He and his associates think the Costa Rican currency is generally overvalued compared to pre-boom times.

Meanwhile, a dollar trading exchange has been set up called Monex. This has opened up foreign exchange by removing banks as necessary intermediaries with access to the central bank’s reserves. The spread here is much smaller, about a colon, and it is possible to participate with as little as $1,000.

Trejos said there is demand for a futures market where businesses could hedge against exchange rate volatility, but regulators have been slow to agree.


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an José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 48

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

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Real estate agents and services

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with Great Estates of Costa Rica

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Hearing consultant

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Another protest set for today
by unlicensed taxi drivers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Motorists should gear up for another protest by unlicensed taxi drivers today.

The porteadores will be engaging in their turtle-like behavior, called  tortuguismo. They drive at very slow speeds to impede traffic.

The porteadores are concerned that they will lose the right to be contract carriers if legislation is not passed fortifying their position. Such a bill has been presented to lawmakers.

Licensed taxi drivers are equally adamant that the porteadores take business from them. The sides have been battling for years, and licensed taxi drivers have engaged in their own protests.


High schoolers detained
with knives and a gun

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers detained six high schoolers Tuesday in three separate incidents.

The first arrests came about 11 a.m. in the Liceo Roberto Brenes Mesén in Hatillo 2.  Three girls were involved in a dispute with a fourth girl, and the lone individual suffered a stab wound in the arm. She went to the hospital. The three girls detained are 14 years old.

In Chacarita, Puntarenas, at the high school there a girl stabbed another student in the stomach, officers said. The stabbing followed a dispute at a bus stop near the school.

In Barrio Aranjuez, San José, officers stopped a possible confrontation at Colegio México where students from the Luis Dobles Segreda and Don Bosco schools were about to launch an attack. Both of those detained were 14, and police confiscated a handgun from one of them. The other carried a kitchen knife, police said.


Job market seen optimistically

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Employers are expecting a 23 percent increase in jobs for the second third of the year.

That is the prediction from Manpower Costa Rica, which conducted a survey on the topic with employers. Some 28 percent of the employers contacted expect a strong increase in the labor force while 5 percent expect a decline, the company said.


Our readers' opinions
Australian pine are invasive
and should be cut down


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

If the trees being cut down in Parque la Sabana are in fact Casuarina equisetifolia, then it is a good deed. The so-called Australian pine is an invasive species, and frequently displaces native species.  Though it would not do so in its present location, its wind-distributed propagules have the potential to spread to undesirable locations. Apart from a minor
role in soil stabilization, it is a pest here in Florida.

Paul E. Hargraves
Emeritus professor of oceanography,
University of Rhode Island
North Fort Pierce, Florida


When are the funerals?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was wondering if in addition to the tree murders you had plans to have a tree murder funeral? We could send flowers, cry and listen to a tree murder pastor give a nice sermon? It would sure help us all cope with this grave loss. Are they going to cremate the trees in some rich guys fireplace, or have a proper burial?

I don't want the trees to die in vain, hope someone builds a nice house, table, chair or something so we can see their beauty forever. Did these particular trees have tree babies? I hope the murderers dropped pine cones along the way so the tree babies can grow up like mom and dad.

Scott Livingston

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


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an José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 48


Come check us out, Rush, and see why we love Costa Rica
Dear Rush,

I see you are getting hammered because you did not know about Costa Rica's highly regarded public health care system when you spoke with a caller on your radio show..

For example The Huffington Post said that your threat to leave the United States for Costa Rica doubled a lot of people's motivation to pass Obama care.

At least you didn't call us an island.

I am sorry to report that as of last week expats like yourself will have to join the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. We wrote a lot about that, but you must have missed those issues.

We think that you would find Abel Pacheco, the former president, an interesting source of information. When he got sick, even as president, he went to Hospital Calderón Guardia, one of the great public hospitals. The current batch of politicians have a preference to the private hospitals like CIMA and Biblica. And some have just made a serious investment in yet another private hospital.

But what we cannot understand is why a talk show host has become a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats. Shucks, you never even held public office. Come to think of it, most editors have not either. I guess both you and I stand election at each show or published edition.

We were sorry to see that you backed off your comment and said that you only meant that you would come to Costa Rica for medical treatment if the U.S. government forced you into a mandatory medical care program. That's a good idea. We publish Medical Vacation Costa Rica for folks like you. There even are ads for fat farms that talk show hosts and editors need from time to time.

Your friend over at The Huffington Post was not 100 percent on the mark either. He wrote: ". . . it also seems that Costa Rica's 'legal and government-regulated' sex trade is recession-proof." That is kind of an obligatory comment for anyone writing on Costa Rica. But we have not seen any government regulations, although there are plenty of government customers. I guess they don't have prostitution in Washington, D.C., so the idea excites these guys. I mean the sexual stuff, not the political prostitution. We all know about that.

Anyway, I really wanted to drop this short note to
Rush limbaugh
I don't know. I'll just tell you this, if this passes and it's five years from now and all that stuff gets implemented — I am leaving the country. I'll go to Costa Rica.
— Rush Limbaugh


encourage you to come here despite what your critics say. We've got the sun and the sand and those vastly underpriced condos designed for snow bunnies like yourself. Hurry, though, because real estate is beginning to turn around.

We have some other celebrities visiting here now. Some guy from New Orleans, Reggie Bush, is here. He plays football. The real football, not the stuff where you kick the ball around and never score. He has someone called Kim Kardashian with him at the Four Seasons resort, whoever she is. They will spend a great time in Costa Rica and never realize they are in Costa Rica. 

But if you come down, I promise you that you will not be cocooned in some gated, guarded resort where they charge 40 bucks for breakfast. Come and see our medical system first-hand. Jo Stuart can show you around. Like everything, the system has good and bad points.

And the good thing is that you will not be a celebrity here. Hardly anyone has heard of you. That's a plus for talk show hosts where the critics hang on your every word.

Regards,          
                 Jay Brodell   
        editor    



Former chief prosecutor will head security ministry
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new minister of security will be an intellectual who has served as fiscal general of the country, the nation's top prosecutor. He is José María Tijerino, who also has been a law professor at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

He is the choice of Laura Chinchilla, the president-elect, who also picked Mario Zamora, the current immigration chief, to be vice minister of Gobernación. That is a step up because that office supervises immigration.

Tijerino was fiscal general in the early 1990s.

The president-elect also created a position of drug coordination as a vice ministry in the Presidencia. That job will be held by Mauricio Boraschi, who now heads the Instituto sobre Drogas.

The minister of the Presidencia will be Marco Vargas, a
seasoned politician who recently took on the Obras Públicas y Transportes ministry.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública supervises several police forces, including the Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Turismo, the Policía de Control de Drogas, the Guardacostas and the immigration police. Tijerino is an expert on the various types of police forces and their functions and has written academic articles on the concept of the judicial police, known here as the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Oscar Arias Sánchez in his campaign in 2005 and 2006 promised 5,000 new police officers. It appears that he has delivered on his promise, but the current force has been ravaged by allegations of corruption that went as high as the regional command level.

A number of policemen were found working in league with drug traffickers.

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an José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 48

gringo students
A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Avendaño Arce
Tuesday was a great day for being outside, and that is where visiting U.S. students could be found sketching the ornate band shelter in Parque Morazán. The 11 students  are from all parts of the United States, and they are in
Costa Rica for a year to participate in a program at  Universidad Veritas where they learn Spanish, learn about Costa Rican culture and learn drawing. The professor, who is on the right with his sketch, is Jim Theoloeos



Lawmakers keep some stiff fines and cut lesser penalties

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators cut stiff fines in the new traffic law Tuesday. But they did not touch the penalties for the more life-threatening violations.

A fine of 67 percent of the legal base salary, now 196,578, remains in place for reckless driving, drunk drivers and for a learner who drives without a licensed operator in the car.

Also fined this amount are those who offer public transport services without a permit, that is the so-called pirate taxi driver.

Also fined are those who allow minors under the age of 18 to ride without a seatbelt or those 12 and under to ride without a protective chair. Motorcycle riders without helmets also get a 196,578-colon fine, which today is $363. Also fined this amount are drivers who transport dangerous substances without a permit.

A fine of 146,700 colons awaits another category of violators. This fine was not reduced either. It applies to those who go through a red light, drive on a suspended license, uses a cell telephone or television set while in motion, drive with altered license plates or no plates, make an illegal U turn, or drive with a device to detect traffic radar. This fine is about $271.

The fines are denominated as a percentage of the legal base salary, now 293,400 colons, to compensate for the expected devaluation of the colon. The base salary is adjusted periodically.

Other violations were cut significantly.  Those who pass on the right, drive too slow, have not paid the marchamo road tax, do not yield when required, drive too close to the vehicle ahead, have vehicles with polarized windows on the sides or without a windshield face a fine of 17 percent of the base salary, now 49,878 colons. That was cut from 99,756 colons.
Drivers who fail to yield to a pedestrian or motorcycle drivers who do not wear a reflective vest face a fine of 38,142, some 13 percent of the base salary. That was cut from 79,218 colons. Also in this category are pedestrians who walk along or cross the highway inappropriately.

Stopping at an intersection and blocking traffic brings a fine of 10 percent of the base salary, cut Tuesday from 20 percent. That amount is now 29,340 colons. This fine also applies to those driving with an expired license. Also in this category are foreigners who drive for more than 90 days on their home country license without obtaining a Costa Rican license. The law says that a foreigner may drive for a maximum of 90 days in the country on a foreign license. That would seem to require those who renew their tourist visas administratively without leaving the county to get a Costa Rican license if they seek to drive.

Not carrying a valid license while driving will cost 20,538 colons instead of 41,076 colons. Other violations facing the identical fine include those who do not carry the required documents for the vehicle and those who use enhanced horns and other sound devices.

The lowest level of fines, 3 percent of the base salary or 8,802 colons currently (some $16.25) is assessed against those who run toll booths, use high-powered speakers for their car's music system or liter on the highways. This also is the fine for those caught with forbidden plates in the metro area on the day their license plate's final digit is not permitted.

There also are more complex violations for public transportation drivers and truckers.

Lawmakers passed 16 motions Tuesday and rejected 15.

None of the changes go into force until the lawmakers approve the entire package and send it to the president. Then the entire litany of changes have to be published in the government newspaper.



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an José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 48

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

U.N. tourism chief seeks
unified voice for industry


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Working together to ensure that global policies are supportive of the sustainable growth of tourism and position travel and tourism as one industry speaking with one voice were some of the challenges highlighted by the U.N.'s top tourism official Tuesday in Berlin, Germany.

The official, Taleb Rifai was speaking at the opening of this year’s ITB Travel Trade Show. He is secretary general of the United Nation's World Tourism Organization.

The tourism show kicks off as the tourism industry is starting to leave behind one of the most difficult years of its history, after international tourist arrivals fell by 4 prcent in 2009, while earnings are estimated to have fallen by approximately 6 percent.
 
The return of growth to international tourism in the last quarter of 2009 and the first results from January 2010 suggest that recuperation is under way. In this framework, the tourism organization forecasts a growth of 3 to 4 percent in international tourist arrivals for 2010.
 
“Though there are positive signs emerging from the global economy, we all recognize that recovery is still weak, uneven, easily reversible and that many downside risks remain”, said Rifai. “It is therefore key to devise ways for tourism to be well positioned in any new economic cycle”, he added.
 
At the same time, Rifai highlighted the lessons learned from the organization's Roadmap for Recovery process: Countries which were quick in reacting to and implementing measures to mitigate the crisis have seen that their initiatives have made a difference.
 
He also recalled that “tourism can rapidly create jobs” inviting the sector to consider a “collective initiative that stimulates the preservation and creation of decent jobs and qualifies human resources to be part of the transformation to the green economy.”
 
In considering the roots of the still persisting challenges, Rifai said “it seems that our global economic order and our global ecological balance are both challenged at the same time”. He added, “the entire development model of the last 60 years seems to be unsustainable and in question”.
 
Against this backdrop, Rifai underscored that “recent developments have revealed some of the structural weaknesses of our sector, both within the private and the public realms.”
 
“There is clearly a need to revisit our business models in order to master innovation and technology as much as there is a need to develop comprehensive, clear and strong public policies. We cannot build a meaningful public-private partnership without strong, healthy and identifiable national public policies on travel and tourism,” he concluded.
 

For your international reading pleasure:


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 10, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 48


Latin American news
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U.S. lifts ban on exporting
Internet chat software


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire servcies

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced it will issue licenses to companies that export instant messaging and other personal Internet services to Iran, Sudan and Cuba.  The move follows comments made earlier this year by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Internet freedom is now a fundamental principle of American foreign policy.

Can a cell phone or computer bring down a regime?  It's a question tech watchers pose following the success of anti-government protesters in getting their message out last June following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. 

Many Iranian youth captured video with their cell phones and used social networking sites to organize. "This is a world of 'communications.' It is no longer possible to conceal the truth.  It's not that easy to lie and to play around with the polls," said one Iranian.

Reports by citizen journalists gained international attention after the Iranian government blocked foreign reporters from covering anti-government rallies.

"The role of digital media has revolutionized really the way demonstrations have been reported and for that reason it has been playing a very, very important role," said Baqer Moin, a prominent Iranian blogger in London.

The U.S. administration has taken notice. Monday, the Treasury Department announced it will grant licenses to Internet companies to export Facebook, Twitter and other personal Internet services to Cuba, Sudan and Iran. That runs counter to strict sanctions still in place covering other trade with these nations.

"In the 21st century, expression and assembly are carried out on the Internet so we are going to continue to support those people who wish to circumvent and be able to communicate without being blocked by their own government," said Mrs. Clinton.  Her comments this week follow those she made in January, when she said Internet freedom has become a fundamental principle of American foreign policy. Obviously, so-called closed societies can slow and block Internet service.  But tech-saavy onlookers say not for long.

"It's too late now, the people have got used to this technology, businesses, finance, and industry are using this technology and you just can't push it back anymore," said Potkin Azarmehr of Azarmehr.Blogspot.com

"When a repression takes place in one area, the Internet will kind of skirt around that. There is no central Internet motherlode. It was designed to withstand nuclear invasion," said Diane Martin, George Washington University.

The lifting of Internet restrictions follows calls in Congress for easier export of social networking services.



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