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(506) 223-1327          Published Monday, March 19, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 55          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Lack of regulations turning immigration into circus
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Immigration law in Costa Rica is currently a circus.  Peoples’ tempers are raging.

Immigration employees do not know the answers to questions.  If one is lucky to get an appointment, it could be so far into the future one seriously wonders if he is going to be around to use it.  There is a moratorium on renewing foreigner identification cards until July because the renewal system has disintegrated.

One of the many problems is there are no rules for the new immigration law which came into effect in December 2005. 

Laws are like policy, a course of action.  For example, “honesty is the best policy.”  However, laws like policy do not set out rules or procedures to follow.   Laws are sometimes vague and need step-by-step instructions.  This is especially true in Costa Rica where the rule is “if something is not prohibited, it is permitted.”  Ethics and honesty be damned.

A case in point is Article 75 of the new Immigration Law.  This article affects the lives of most expats living legally in Costa Rica.

Summarizing the article of the law, it states, Costa Rican Immigration can authorize residencies to the following people:  1.) spouses of Costa Ricans who can prove a connubial relationship, 2.) religious missionaries for those religions that are approved by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto: 3.) executives, representatives, managers, and technical personnel for companies considered a priority to the country;  4.) investors; 5.) retired persons (pensionados); 6.) scientists, professionals and technicians; 7) athletes accredited by the Consejo Nacional de Deportes; 8) journalists; 9) relatives of the handicapped or the incapacitated, and 10.) annuitants (rentistas).

The article generates a bunch of questions:  What constitutes a connubial relationship or a missionary?  How big does a priority company need to be to get their employees into Costa Rica?  How much do you have to invest to be an investor?  Do retired people need to be of a particular age?  What kinds of scientists, professionals and technicians?  And so on.

Rules or bylaws to laws in Costa Rica are reglamentos.  Most laws here have them.  The old Immigration Law 7033 had one.  In theory, it died with the law when the new Immigration Law 8487 replaced it.

So what are people doing?  How are they applying for residency?

Well, the organizations in town processing residencies are using the old rules.  However, the

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immigration program is a crap shoot, especially for the investor residencies.  A person can qualify in every respect and still have their application turned down.  Since there are no rules for the law, applications are processed based on the whims of the immigration employees.

Article 63 and 64 of the old immigration law reglamento regulated investor residencies.  It stated investors could become residents of Costa Rica using the rules of the reglamento to apply.  Decree 26634 states investors must invest $200,000 in a project to qualify or $50,000 in an investment the government deems a priority.

There is a fast track to Costa Rican residency, Forestry Law 7575, Article 70.  It is not in question right now because it is part of an existing law that is in full force.  Investing $100,000 in reforestation qualifies an individual, their spouse and children under 18 to immediate residency.  One company in reforestation is pre-approved for this program.

Will there be a new reglamento to the new immigration law?  Probably not, the legislature is fighting to change the current law.   No one likes it.  Obviously, it does not work or things would not be in such a mess. Many do not like the proposed changes either.

For those people looking at Costa Rica as a home for the future, bring popcorn and plenty of hot dogs.  This circus is going to last for a while.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info.  Copyright 2004-2007, use without permission prohibited.

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Unhappy condo buyer
goes to court for banner

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An unhappy condo buyer is going to trial this week because he hung up a sign criticizing the developer.

The Poder Judicial identified the man by the last name of  Ebrahimi and said he faces a charge of defaming a corporation. The charge originated because the man purchased a condo in Condominios Interamericana in Heredia Nov. 28, 2004, said the Poder Judicial.

The man had complaints about the property and brought those complaints to the developer April 29, 2005, and again on Jan. 18, 2006, said the Poder Judicial.

When the complaints were not resolved to his satisfaction, the man hung a banner criticizing the quality of workmanship there and inviting would-be buyers to call him or his neighbors.

The company involved in the property carried the case to court in Heredia because managers felt their prestige and reputation were damaged, said the Poder Judicial. Some 15 persons are scheduled to testify.

Two teen girls say they killed
man who tried to rape one

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two teens are telling investigators that the U.S. citizen they stabbed in Carmen de Guadalupe tried to rape one of the girls.

The girls are 15 and 17.  They were guests of the victim, 66-year-old Wilfredo Quesada Ramos, a Cuban-American.

Investigators have detained the two minors and are questioning them.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, Quesada invited the two girls to his apartment. The girls testified that early Friday the man took a knife and threatened the older one and insisted on sexual relations.

According to the story told by the girls, they both attacked Quesada to stop the rape. He suffered multiple stab wounds. Later the girls showed up at an office of the Judicial Investigating Organization to file a complaint for rape.

When the body was found, Quesada was nude, said police.

Quesada imported cars for the United States for sale here.

Ohio tourist dies in Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 50-year-old U.S. tourist from Ohio died Thursday in the surf at Playa Grande, Guanacaste.

He was Jay Kennedy, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. They said he was accompanied by a New Jersey woman, Lauren Esneider, 50. Both were in the surf and were hit by a big wave, which carried Kennedy away. The woman managed to get to shore, they said. The body was recovered about five minutes later, they said.

Kennedy was the administrator of a company in his home state, they said.

Day for San José celebrated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph or San José as he is known here. Municipal officials will be attending a Mass today at the Catedral Metropolitana to mark the day. Church officials organized a procession Sunday in which the statue of the saint was carried through the streets.

St. Joseph, in Christian tradition, was the stepfather of Jesus.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 55

Just another Sunday visitor with larceny in his heart
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sunday visitor was back, and this time he had big plans.

A routine inspection of our terrace Sunday revealed that someone had broken through the plastic roof covering of

the apartment below.

The bulk of the suspicion falls on the mustachioed man caught trying to steal an old ladder the week before. Silly us. We figured he wanted the ladder to sell for a few colons on the street. But he wanted to use it to break into the apartment below. It is a long drop from the ceiling to the floor, and there is little to hang on to,
even for a slender, professional thief.

He fled after we confronted him. But he probably was the crook who came back Sunday.

The police came after we spotted the crook-size hole in the roof coverings that happens to be level with our deck. The apartment resident is out of the county, and the crook probably knew this.

Municipal policemen entered the apartment with guns drawn, but no one was there. But they said the thief had packed and piled up every worthwhile item in preparation
for a new visit. The lock on the chain securing the
front portón or gate had been cut, but the chain was put back in position to give the impression the entry still was secure.

The bad guy was not a crackhead but a professional, one who works Sundays.

Such is the life in Costa Rica. A small percentage of the residents are full-time thieves.

Clearly this guy does not have a car or truck, and he probably was out Sunday seeking a friend to help him haul the loot from the apartment late Sunday. There was a nice console television and other items that could have kept the thief's family in rice and beans for a couple of weeks.

Anyone who has lived here as more than a tourist has adopted strict anti-theft measures. But the crooks find new ways. The only guaranteed prevention method is in having someone awake in the house at all times. And that does not protect against the more violent robbers who simply crash into an upscale home with guns drawn.

Our neighbor is luckier than most. Many North Americans take short trips to discover on return that their house or apartment has been cleaned out. Sometimes they suspect complicity from private guards.

Fighting thieves is a continual competition that wears down expats in the city, on the farm or at the beach. Several have confided that this continual preoccupation is one of the top reasons they were leaving the country.

Foes of gold mine say they found arsenic in a waterway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The group fighting to stop an open pit gold mine from operating near the Nicaraguan border claims that they already have found traces of arsenic contamination in a local waterway.

They say they suspect the arsenic is a result of secret tests and research at the as-yet-unopened mine.

The organization is Unión Norte por la Vida, whose president said he had filed a complaint with judicial authorities. The mine is at Crucitas de Cutris and operated by the Canadian firm Vannessa Ventures Ltd. and its Costa Rican subsidiary, Industrias Infinito, S.A. Vannessa said last month that the firm would begin test drilling on the site.

The organization's president, Edgardo Araya Sibaja, said mine opponents have found a family in the area suffering from apparent arsenic poisoning. He identified them as the Arias Elizondo family. Symptoms include open sores. The organization also said that some cattle died.

The organization said that tests confirming the presence of
arsenic in the waterway Descubrimiento were conducted by the Escuela de Química of the Universidad de Costa Rica.

However, the group has not yet provided reporters with copies of the test despite a request. The organization said the amount was higher than generally accepted safe standards.

Araya said in a message to newspeople that arsenic is a subproduct of the cyanide leaching technique used to extract gold from the open pit rocks. However, the typical cyanide process produces only water and sodium cyanide bonded with gold. Another process precipitates out the gold.

If arsenic already exists in the rocks, the cyanide process can free it.

Naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater is a problem in parts of Asia and parts of Argentina, México and other parts of Latin America.

In light of the test results the Unión Norte por la Vida is calling for an investigation that would include the entire watershed of the Río San Juan.

If you want to get something done quickly, go slow!
Despacio que tengo prisa

“Slow down, I’m in a hurry.” This expression takes on particular significance whenever one gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle here in Costa Rica. Most Ticos do the exact opposite of what the dicho advises:  They drive like absolute maniacs even when they’re on a mission of no more urgency than going to the corner pulperia for a liter of milk.

A few days ago we drove over to Manuel Antonio on the south central Pacific coast. Of course, we encountered the usual slow-moving trucks crossing the Monte de Aguacate, the high mountain ridge that separates the Central Valley from the south-western seaboard. But more frequent than these ponderous tortugas  (turtles) were the foolhardy drivers who think they’re in such a hurry to get to Orotina they go careening around blind curves at break-neck speeds on the wrong side of the road, passing tractor-trailer rigs on steep up-slopes and generally driving like total idiots.

They must think that the four or five minutes they might gain justifies taking such terrible risks, but the horrendously deadly traffic accidents that are reported literally every single day in the Costa Rican media tell a different story.

These killers on wheels are not only a menace to themselves and other motorists they also threaten pedestrians who are found walking along the sides of the roads everywhere in Costa Rica. An evening stroll to one of the nightspots that dot the windy road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio can be a life-threatening experience. But whether walking or going by taxi, either way can present a risk to life and limb.

Deadly traffic mishaps are now so common in Costa Rica that referring to them as “accidents” is something of a misnomer. They are more like phenomena. An accident, after all, is something that happens unexpectedly, whereas a phenomenon is merely a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen. In French we might refer to

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

an horrendous Costa Rican transit collision as comme il faut or perhaps de rigueur. (Those clever French, they do seem to have a word, or words, for everything.)

Despacio que tengo prisa might also be applied to the incredible frenzy of new construction that is currently under way at Manuel Antonio. High-rise condominiums and hotels are going up at such a pace that one gets the impression the developers are possessed by some deranged obsession to blot out every gratuitous view of the sea as quickly as is humanly, or inhumanly, possible.

Another dicho, which I learned as a schoolboy, that goes along with this one is despacio y con buena letra, meaning literally “slowly and with good writing.”  When I was a young student I took this to refer to my penmanship, but I later came to realize that my maestro was actually talking about life, which should be taken deliberately and thoughtfully, rather than fast and haphazardly.

Today’s dicho talks about the importance of attaining one’s goals in a steady and thoughtful fashion rather than being slapdash and foolish. For in life, as in driving a car, it’s better to arrive alive than to never arrive at all.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 55

A.M. Costa Rica readers have their say on efficiency, Iraq and real estate
Inefficiencies are called
part of the charm here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

With regards to the real estate markets AND inefficiencies:

1.  Stop harping on inefficiencies in Costa Rica. We who live here and/or visit pay NO taxes ( or at least virtually none) to support a more efficient country.   What can we realistically expect for nothing?   It would be nice if some of the more glaring instances of "stupidity" and "waste" would be elliminated or corrected, but the bottom line here is that the efficiencies (as Sally O'Boyle put it ) are part of the charm of Costa Rica.   Well, maybe not charm...but definitely part of the culture.  

And maybe we Gringos should take a look at our responses to some of the things that we cannot control that seem commonplace here.   I don't know too many people who actually like excessive or nonsensical paperwork or seemingly meaningless rules and regulations, but what I like even less is how I respond to them, i.e., with higher blood pressure and anger.    What is the old saying? "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can."

I moved to Costa Rica for several reasons and, somehow, I think that adoption of "more efficient methods" and a more streamlined culture would somehow see the disappearance of those reasons.  

2.  Real estate markets: With all due respect to everyone's opinions, absolutely no one can predict with any assurance what will happen to Costa Rica's real estate markets because there are too many facets to the question.  

Are we talking just retirees? Or are we talking the bigger developers along the coast? Or are we talking vacation homes only ? And are we talking existing construction or are we talking new purchases to be built in 10 years?

I can tell you these facts:   The real estate market is definitely down in the States and there is still sizeable interest here in Costa Rica. But tourism numbers are DOWN this year for the second or third year in a row. Construction numbers are up (but does that reflect past purchases or an indication of the future? Stay tuned) Many realtors in Guanacaste and the more "popular" areas say that they have not made a sale in a year (maybe they will have to get "real jobs")

Several larger development projects have seemingly been halted for various reasons. In many areas prices are actually trending downward (note:  obviously that would reflect a slowing of buyers).

No one can say for certain that the markets here will slow, stay the same or accelerate.   Bottom line is that. Only the future will tell and that it still makes even more sense today to do as much research and due diligence as you can when purchasing Costa Rican real estate. 

Remember,  Costa Rica is a fantastic place for a great number of people. but it is definitely not for everyone.

Randy Berg

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U.S. has an obligation
to fix problems in Iraq

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading Jo Stuart  today I felt a desire to express my feelings on Iraq and the war. I am neither right nor left and tend to catch it from both sides for non conformance.

While I felt that the leaders of Iraq set their own rat trap and opened the doors to war, there is still no reason for it to have been opened up to all capitalistic profit without improving any of the citizens lives. American foreign interests are more often than not based upon the corporate world. It is clear that most  U.S. Citizens are against illegal immigration but do support legal controlled immigration from countries all over the world. However, corporate America seems to find providing a monopoly on immigration to México more in their interest than citizens of the U.S.
I do feel that if we had sent in the Peace Corp with Special Forces to Vietnam the war would have been over in just a few years.. The majority of the citizens were being ignored while those in the city profited.

Currently this war is being fought in the city verses the countryside war of Nam. I still feel we need to support the people of Iraq verses special interests there.

Regardless of how we got into the war, we now have a responsibility to fix the situation.  Our VPs ex-company (if you believe that) just moved its headquarters outside of the U.S. after raking in billions of dollars in Iraq. It is time for the people of Iraq to stop suffering, but I do not feel a withdrawal will provide that desired effect.
Dave Gibson
Curridabat and Sacramento, California

Description of the market
disputed as nonsense

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was surprised to read Raymond Hardiman’s letter saying your articles should go under the opinion column. What nonsense!

He says: “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.”

This is ridiculous reasoning.  -Why would anyone be not able to pay when prices went down. What probably happened was when people lost jobs (or incomes) they couldn’t afford house payments and, therefore, the defaults. Or else it’s a lot more complicated than what he states, and I think his assumptions are not economic facts but opinions.

He also says: “Population is infinite while land is finite and the population is increasing at an exponential rate.” Then why would there be ever a decline in price of housing! He doesn’t realize that both micro and macro economics are at work in any economy, so the effects are not so simple and universal as limited amount of supply only.

In the Colorado market (one of the worst in U.S.A.) house prices are diving down since last three years while new construction is crawling, which shouldn’t be so if you just use his logic.

I believe (I am no expert) that the lending to marginal owners who defaulted has led to the near-crisis in the housing market. These people got in way too deep for their pockets and ended up defaulting and losing whatever equity they had (most of them had no equity). So the houses sold/constructed for them are now flooding the market and creating a sense of fear among new buyers, which is actually better for the market in the long run, in my opinion.

Raman Jalota
Denver, Colorado

Venezuela may have to face some hard economic facts about price of oil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

With oil prices hovering above $55 a barrel, petroleum-rich Venezuela is awash with money. The windfall allows President Hugo Chávez to fund numerous social programs for the country's poor as well as gain influence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean by selling oil at concessionary prices.

But the oil spigot may be running dry.

Oil represents about three-quarters of Venezuela's export earnings and nearly half of government revenues. And Chávez is squeezing the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, to finance his goal of socialism for the 21st century.  The company has responsibilities to organize and pay for numerous social programs.                                

The manager of one of the biggest fields on Lake Maracaibo, Jose Pirela, says after 90 years, oil is getting harder to extract. "We need help with technology from all countries."

But right now, Venezuelans are drenched in oil money and are enjoying every minute of it. For example, car sales are up by 50 percent over last year. And gas costs the equivalent of 12 cents (U.S.) a liter.

It's this kind of consumer frenzy that worries financial analyst Robert Bottome. "We used to be importing $10-12 billion a year, we're now importing $30. Well, you can't sustain that. The day the price of oil settles to a more reasonable level, which I think is soon, we're just in  trouble. There's no way of sustaining the consumption, there is no way of sustaining the illusion of growth."
But Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro says the government does have contingency plans if oil prices drop. "Obviously, a fall in the price of oil would have a very serious consequence for our economy. But today we have a very strong position because we have strong national reserves, and we've created a national Investment fund to save the money that is coming in as oil revenues. So if there were a collapse in oil prices — and we don't foresee that in the next ten years — Venezuela is prepared to continue our social investment. Spending won't be affected."

Bottome, American oil analysts, even the Organization of Petroeum Exporting Countries say Venezuela is producing far less than the 3.3 million barrels a day it claims. And according to Bottome, the country is becoming ever-more dependent on oil.

"The upshot is that where we had 11,000 industrial plants functioning here in 1998, we have under 5,000 now. If they're multinationals they've moved production to Colombia, to Costa Rica, to Brazil, to Mexico. And if they're Venezuelans then a lot of them have plain gone out of business."

Perhaps that is why Venezuela is exploring deep in the interior of the country.   There may be as many as 300 billion barrels of oil in the Orinoco Basin. That would give Venezuela the world's biggest proven reserves.

But the oil there is hard to extract, and expensive to refine and bring to market.  By itself, Venezuela probably can't afford the costs. Nevertheless, at the end of February, Chavez nationalized the fields — a move that has put foreign participation in the Orinoco in jeopardy.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 20, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 56

Javier Quirós and Supra easily capture Copa Shell Helix
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Javier Quirós had little trouble winning the Copa Shell Helix Sunday with his newly imported Toyota Supra.

The GT 1 class racer was clocked at 228 kmph (141.6 mph). The race, the first meeting of the 2007 season, was
at the  Autódromo La Guácima before some 10,000 spectators.

Quirós only fell behind once in the early stage of the race when Marco Micangelli managed to get the lead position in his Corvette. But Quirós quickly regained the lead and held it. Defending champion Ernesto Rodríguez was third.

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