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Universal de Idiomas

(506) 223-1327          Published Friday, March 16, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 54           E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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One of the many manisfestations of the banshee.

Unofficial flag of Ireland is out of favor now because it is considered too nationalistic. Something to do with the English.

The leprechaun is only a fun-loving guy to those who have not met one.

It's just a tiny, little place with loads of tradition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Like most underclasses, the Irish are not shy about death, ghosts and all kinds of monsters.

St. Patrick thinks he brought the Catholic faith to Ireland, but what he brought was a veneer that fit nicely over the existing Celtic traditions. The merger persists to today.

Seen from above, Ireland is a tiny place that fits nicely in the window of a passenger jet. But there to the right is Wales and further north is Scotland, both part of the greater Celtic culture.

There small places were the object of envy from a procession of crooks, strongmen and vagabonds. Ireland has had its own filibusterers in ancient and modern times. This is why fighting comes so naturally to the survivors.

The fallout from armed confrontation is legend, and it is here you find the superheroes, the ghosts and a glamorized history. From the legends come the banshees, the leprechaun and the fairies, at least 4,000 years of them.

The fairies, by the way are earlier residents of Ireland who committed battlefield suicide in front of the invaders and entered the spirit world.

They are the Tuatha Dé Danann.
There also is something about strong drink that encourages the cultivation of spirits and ghosts. And strong drink is synonymous with the Irish. For the Irish every day is Halloween.

Coupled with the drink and the spirits is the Irish tradition of letters. The tiny island has produced a disproportionate number of writers, playwrights and, indeed, newspapermen. A few, like Brendan Behan, were able to combine editorial excellence and a lust for the juice of the barley.

The ghosts and spirits seem to be a product of the Irish propensity for black and white. The Irish brook no grays. There is good. And there is evil. The dichotomy comes from the outside pressure, most recently the English invasion.

If one is bad, the ghosts get the soul. The black coach comes to take the sinner away.

The land is old and dotted with strange rock configurations. One can only guess the history. So the Irish make up stories. And these stories develop wings of their own. The Headless Horseman of Washington Irving fame, for example, has its prototype in Ireland.

So today, the eve of St. Patrick's Day, you should lift a glass to the mystical, the idea of being Irish. And hope that the glass contains a tad of Guinness or Murphy's or perhaps a touch of Jameson's.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 54

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new traffic sign boards
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Tránsito officer directs traffic around the location of a new signboard for motorosits in La Sabana.

Traffic signs will carry
messages for motorists

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

Transport officials have put into service the first of four so-called intelligent signboard. The idea is to give motorists one of some 15 messages about road safety and traffic conditions.

The first sign went up near Parque La Sabana. Others are planned for La Uruca, Route 32 when motorists come into San José from the north and Guadalupe, Each sign is wireless and connected to the central control of the Ministerio de Obras Púbicas y Transporte. Each cost $45,000.

The installation of the signs is part of a larger $4.7 million project that includes putting in 220 new traffic lights in the metropolitan area.

Motorcyclists start fire
at office under construction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone torched an office that was being remodeled in Tambor de Cóbano early Thursday.

Investigators with dogs were at the scene later in the day to see how the blaze had been started and what kind of flammable material was used.

Despite earlier reports of a home-made gasoline bomb, investigators said they think that someone simply broke a window to the office, poured some kind of fluid and then ignited the substance.

The culprit or culprits fled on a motorcycle, according to two witnesses who live in a cabina nearby, agents said. The witnesses said that two persons were involved in starting the fire.

Police in Cóbano identified the man who rented the office as Peter Solle. He and his wife,  Hazel Hernández, made an early morning report of the incident, police said. The place was supposed to become a real estate office.

Firemen from nearby Paquera extinguished the blaze. The location is on the Nicoya Peninsula.

U.S. forgives some debt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States will forgive some $12.6 million of Costa Rica's international debt under a law that gives incentives for tropical conservation, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. Costa Rica owes the United States $93.1 million. The debt relief is in recognition of Costa Rica's efforts toward reforestation.

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Costa Rica
third newspage

Tex Mex restaurant
Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 54

last year's regata
Scene from the 2006 regatta, which was the first for the area.
Second regatta planned for Playas del Coco at month's end
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is another regatta planned for Playas de Coco and the Gulf of Papagayo, and sail boats from all over the Pacific and from other countries are being invited.

This is the second year for the event that organizers want to make an annual affair.

The dates are March 31 and April 1. At 11 a.m. both days
the boats will take off from Playas del Coco for Hermosa, Playa Panamá, Hotel Four Seasons, Playa Ocotal and return.Some $15,000 in prize money is allocated, but 
organizers want winners to donate half of any prize money to a fund to create a sailing school for kids. In addition to the sailing school, the regatta has as its goal the promotion of the area and the promotion of sailing in general, according to a press release from the organizers.

With the money raised last year, the event promoters were able to construct a recreation area in Playas del Coco for youngsters.

Boats will sail both March 31, a Saturday, and April 1, a Sunday. Saturday night will include a beach party. Prizes will be awarded Sunday.

U.S. citizen facing marijuana-growing charge dies in jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen being held to face charges of growing marijuana on his property in Tronadora de Tilarán Guanacaste has died in jail.

He is Nick Charles D'Amico, who was listed by investigators as 65 years of age. Friends said he was younger, perhaps 61 or 62. He died on his birthday Sunday while still being held in preventative detention in the San Sebastián reception center in south San José, the Judicial Investigations Organization confirmed. The cause of death is being investigated, according to agents. Autopsy results will not be available until at least later today, agents said.

D'Amico maintained four trucking containers for the production of the illegal substance: one for production, one for growing, another for drying and packaging, and the final area for storage, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was arrested in mid-December during a
raid on his property, which is west of Lake Arenal.

Most of the confiscated plants measured approximately 1.4 meters (4.5 feet) in height and were carried away with lights, planters, fans, seed, plant stems, an electric controller and other high-tech materials from the setup, which was a  hydroponic operation, according to investigators.

D'Amico had lived in Costa Rica for 15 to 20 years, according to friends.

Police were tipped off to the greenhouse operation after a drop in his monthly electric bill, said a Judicial Investigating Organization release at the time.  Someone tampered with the electric meter on the D'Amico property to bypass it, investigators said that experts from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad told them.

At one point the electric bill was 600,000 colons a month, some $1,150, but then it dipped, they said.

What to do when all the guests and visitors leave
Lately I have been having a vague “empty nest” feeling.  All of my houseguests have gone, and I don’t expect any others for awhile.  No one to talk to and laugh with and discuss the current state of the world. No one to hang out with, with a glass of wine in the evening. No one to cook for or vice versa.

However, there is some comfort in resuming my regular routine.  Now I am back to making coffee for one, eating my main meal in the middle of the day or eating mini meals throughout the day, and talking to myself, not to mention indulging in my addiction to political news.  As my friend Alexis says, “You’re ‘alone again, naturally.’”

Not entirely. This past weekend the fourth annual Summer Festival of the Transit Art Fair took place in the three connecting parks in downtown San Jose: The Parque Morazan, the Parque Espana (my favorite) and the middle one the name of which I didn’t know and now do: Parque Jardin de Paz.  Hundreds of other people besides Sandy and me attended.  There was music, dancing, acrobatics, and demonstrations of martial arts (the kinds of self-protection that doesn’t require an army, like capoeira, kung fu and judo).  And of course many art forms for sale from books to jewelry, to candles, masks, crafts in all kinds of materials and works of art, as well as sidewalk artists doing quick portraits and caricatures. 

Sunday it was really crowded.  I bought a small painting by Gloria de los Angeles Rivero Roch, a young artist, who is going to do some murals for an orphanage in San José.  My painting is a fantastic figure, a frustrated looking little gnome I am calling Rumplestiltskin.

Wednesday I bit the bullet and went to Immigration to renew my carnet.  There were seemingly thousands of people there.  I waited for 45 minutes before deciding to   
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

do what I should have done in the first place — go to the Information window.  Immigration is so overwhelmed with applicants that my carnet, due for renewal this month, can run until March of next year.  And I did enjoy lunch out with a friend,

Tomorrow (Saturday) I will be returning to the Parque Morazan to attend a peace vigil to mark the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.  There won’t be thousands, but I expect there to be quite a few others there, too, since more and more people have found the war untenable and unwinable if the purpose was (after finding Saddam Hussein and no weapons of mass destruction) to install democracy.  Being able to vote is not all there is to democracy.

Too bad all of these activities were not taking place when my guests were here.  They were all free, well, almost.  Immigration is going to cost me money when it comes time to renew, but it is well worth it.  I hope it continues to be next year. 

With the colon holding steady against the dollar, prices seem to be soaring.  Dining out, even for lunch, if one goes to any restaurant other than a soda, means at least $7 just for the basics and cost $20 with no effort.  If this continues I am going to find myself alone again, even at lunchtime.  Or maybe I will find a bale of hay and that little guy named Rumplestiltskin will help me spin it into gold.

Are you considering doing business with a burglar alarm company?

If so, you should contact me first
for my opinion

rock and roll pollo

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A.M. Costa Rica
fourth news page

Real estate
About us
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 54

Are you considering doing business with a burglar alarm company?

If so, you should contact me first
for my opinion

From a hotel owner:

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

She used our classifieds!

Our article on real estate
was incorrect, reader says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I enjoy reading your articles and the article you normally have. The ones you have about the real estate are usually off. Prices have been going up and especially in Guanacaste. Wednesday's front page article, “Predicted decline in U.S. housing could echo here,” based predictions from a Boston-based firm, and you mention the main buying power comes from California and Florida.

They forgot to mention that Europeans also have quite a bit of buying power. Not to mention Costa Rica is barely the size of Vermont and just bigger than Maine. Also the big hit to the stock market came from hits to subprime banking and not the housing market. The irony behind the hits to the subprime mortgage bankers is that interest rates are actually about to go down and many more are predicting this will fuel a buying spree this summer that will trigger many who could not afford to buy houses to finally make the move.

Those banks went down because they made bad loans to stated income borrower with bad credit and loaned them 100 percent of the value of the home. When prices went down last year in many middle American homes, these people could not make their payments and foreclosures are now up due to this. These are not the type of borrowers that are investing in land in Costa Rica and are the kind of people that have little effect on the Costa Rica real estate market.

Articles like this one with predictions should go in an opinion section unless you have articles that come from another perspective.

Pretty soon most of Costa Rica will be in the hands of foreigners, and Tico will not be able to afford land, and that is unfortunate. Once that happens land will go up steadily again. Population is infinite while land is finite and the population is increasing at an exponential rate. By applying micro-economics and using a supply and demand chart, it is inevitable that the price of land in Costa Rica is going nowhere but up.

Raymond Hardiman
Orange County, California

Some efficiency suggestions
from Guanacaste reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I think IceTel is the worst for useless paper requirements in comparison to the small value product they offer. It is more complex to get a phone than buy a car or get married which have far greater consequences. And they want originals and copies, more documents if the phone is in a company name. And personeria juiridicas must be less than one month old, but mortgages can be made with PJ's  up to 3 months old.

PJ's for older companies cost ¢10,000 from a notary. I can suspend a phone by calling in, but to get it reinstated takes all the papers and a visit to the regional office. ICE can send me unwanted text messages with loud warnings in the middle of the night, but there is no way I can block them. In Australia, I just called up and they put in a phone the next day.

What percentage of the productive population is standing in lines at any one time waiting for service? At say CCSS, banks, registry, government offices, and the likes? That is an obvious percentage loss of productivity (translates to loss of standard of living) that is included in costs.

An extreme example of inefficiency is letting $1 size holes in the roads grow to $100 and $1,000 holes before they are fixed.  When the big ones are fixed after damaging many cars, they usually ignore the little ones so that they can grow to large ones. The small holes and cracks make a place for water to seep under the pavement and accelerate the damage.

In Guanacaste, ICE replaces burned off wooden poles with more wooden poles where burning of the fields and poles is standard practice. Protecting the poles must be cheaper than replacing them and losing the calls while they are doing it.

Bank charges (to merchants) for use of debit cards are excessive.  In Australia I paid 1.95 percent. It can't cost even that much to make electronic transfers, it is all automatic. Merchants give discounts if you don't use cards. Lower rates would encourage more use and citizens would carry less cash and robbers would get less.

How about phone, Internet and TV on the same cable?

Why not have a free clearing system between banks for checks and transfers which are cheaper than checks.? Would speed business. Free and easy transfers between banks would eliminate the duplication of accounts in several banks.

Joe Lassiter
Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste
Inefficiency and corruption
linked by this reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
If your good story on government inefficiency still has legs, I'd like to keep it running a bit more.

The efficiency of any government has its roots in the cultural makeup of the people being governed under a democratic system. True monarchs and dictatorships have their roots elsewhere. It is interesting to note that countries with a lesser degree of corruption have a higher degree of efficiency. With Costa Rica, neither among the list of "very clean" nations nor highly corrupt ones, it is not surprising find degrees of corruption, thus degrees of inefficiency. 
Why are corruption and inefficiency so closely related? First, let's be clear the corruption is not only government officials accepting bribes. It includes officials being blind, deaf and mute when something improper, be it ethical or operational, is taking place. The "honest" official has to eat as well, and he won't be around very long as as a wave maker.

Inefficiency thrives when there is no immediate adverse consequence for not being efficient. There is so much slop in the Costa Rican system that lack of efficiency hardly alters the system's (inefficient) functioning. Were the system a Swiss watch, the slightest imperfection is immediately discovered and corrected.
When the people at the top call for efficiency, there will be efficiency. As long as there are immediate personal benefits for them to head up an inefficient system, not much will change.

The long-term benefits of efficiency is not in the equation. Will there be money in the social security pension fund for them when they retire? There is now, and that is all they care about. Why be efficient? After all, it's the taxpayer's time and money, and there's a lot of both!
The U.S. government is hardly an example of efficiency, as Hurricane Katrina's preparation and recovery efforts so vividly pointed out, so don't think this is a Costa Rican bashing commentary. Efficiency eradicates corruption and vice versa. It applies to all governments. Think about this the next time you are waiting in a government office line.
Walter Fila
Ciudad Colon

Let's not improve things,
this reader insists

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Please don't anyone go making the country more efficient. Do not come to Costa Rica to "improve" things. Let the Costa Ricans do that as they see fit! It's their country. If you don't like it, PLEASE go back to the efficient paradise from whence you came.
Frustrations? Yes, there are some. But mostly arising from our own unrealistic expectations. I have come to appreciate the inefficiency here. And I've had my moments like everyone else.
Costa Rica is so very different, so very peaceful. The locals around us are welcoming and warm. The only resentment I've experienced was along the coast where EVERYTHING is under construction. I'd be resentful, too, if every morning I woke at 7 a.m. to hammers and earth-moving equipment instead of howler monkeys like I was used to!
The traffic here in Escazú is nothing compared to Key West. Just an excuse to breathe deep and have a chat or listen to music. Or get all upset and blow your horn. I've been there, too. Feels kinda good. You are not allowed to blow your horn in Key West. How efficient.
If you are looking for that kind of efficiency and a government that looks out for you at every turn, you could move there. The way real estate prices are rising in Costa Rica and falling in Key West, the dollars per square foot will soon be equal.
Everything has a price. We love Costa Rica just the way it is. In Key West, we have a bumper sticker that says, "We don't care how you do it up north." Here, here.
Sally O'Boyle

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Chiquita agrees to pay fine because of payoffs to right-wing militia in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chiquita Brands International said Wednesday it agreed to pay a fine of $25 million to settle U.S. Justice Department charges it paid protection money to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a violent right-wing para-military group. The company also promised to work with U.S. investigators in the matter.

Prosecutors allege Chiquita paid more than $1.7 million over seven years ending in 2004. They say the money went to leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Chiquita said the payments were made because of concern over the safety of its employees in the banana-growing regions of Colombia.

University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley says Chiquita is not the only foreign company to be accused of making such payments.

"Many of the paramilitaries have revealed that they have received payments from various corporations, some Colombian, some American, European and others to provide certain kinds of services, very much like the Mafia provides protection services," he said.

In Colombia, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said he
approved of the fine, for what he called extortion payments. He said he hoped other firms under investigation by U.S. authorities receive similar penalties.

The revelations about Chiquita come as Colombia's government is demobilizing some 30,000 paramilitary fighters under a peace deal. The agreement calls for leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia to confess to crimes committed over decades of fighting with Marxist guerrillas who have been waging an anti-government insurgency since the 1960s.

The confessions threaten to open new wounds in the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. Bagley says the process also may lead to a spate of lawsuits against companies and individuals tied to the violence.

"The proceedings that are currently under way have really opened the lid of this bubbling pot, and I think we can expect a number of civil suits to be brought by the victims of these atrocities and other crimes," he said.

Relatives of victims in the Colombian conflict have criticized the peace agreement for being too lenient with paramilitary leaders, who are blamed for massive human rights violations and links to drug trafficking. Colombian officials say the program is necessary to move the nation forward.

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