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These stories were published Tuesday, March 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 57
Jo Stuart
About us
The problem is that burglars do not vacation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Semana Santa may be a holiday for the honest, but this is high season for burglars and thieves. Houses left empty by vacationers are an open invitation for break-ins.

Wealthy Costa Rican families always have trustworthy persons in their homes, be it a long-time maid or a relative. Persons living in less attractive targets still try to maintain security.

The Fuerza Pública issued some rules for the holidays, but they are just what you would expect:

Make sure the lights are turned off in the daytime.

Collect newspapers daily.

Keep lights burning in the evening hours.

Don’t tell the whole world about your vacation plans.

The sturdy bars and razor wire around urban homes sometimes gives a false sense of security. Regardless of the security measures, a determined thief can enter in a few minutes.

Burglars are adept at stretching security bars by using an automobile jack. Clip, clip, and the razor wire is gone. Deadbolts are only as secure as the material around them.

The weak point in many Costa Rican homes is the roof. The tin or plastic panels and other forms of roofing are screwed down. Once

removed, the space left by an 8-foot by 4-foot panel is a doorway into the home.

The Fuerza Pública suggested enlisting a trustworthy person to watch over the house. Many residents here have learned that the local guard is not always that person. Guards sometimes conspire with burglars, or they are threatened into impotence.

The police also suggest using a type of telephone answering machine that can be monitored from afar. A series of suspicious hangups detected by a vacationer can be a warning of a burglary, officials said.

Burglary alarms probably are a waste of time here because neighbors hesitate to become involved. A professional service provides more security at a cost. And such service is not available everywhere.

Some expats have constructed highly secure rooms within their homes. When they leave on vacation, all the valuable furniture, computers and other marketable items are moved into the secure room. Thieves generally will go elsewhere when confronted with 10-inch concrete walls and ceilings and steel doors.

U.S. pressures Nicaragua on missiles with military aid cutoff
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Bush administration confirmed Monday it has suspended military aid to Nicaragua because of that country's failure to follow through on a commitment to destroy Soviet-era portable anti-aircraft missiles. U.S. officials are concerned that the portable air defense systems could fall into the hands of terrorists. 

The suspension affects only a fraction of the overall U.S. aid program to Nicaragua. But it underlines Bush administration displeasure over political wrangling in Nicaragua that has, at least for the time being, derailed the Managua government's missile-destruction effort.

Nicaragua received about 2,000 of the Soviet-made SA-7 missiles in the 1980s when the leftist Sandinista government was in power.

The current Nicaraguan president, Enrique Bolaños, promised the Bush administration in 2003 that his government would destroy the 

weapons and did eliminate about half the stockpile last year.

However, the process has been resisted by the Nicaraguan army, which remains a Sandinista stronghold. And Sandinista legislators teamed up with some conservatives in the country's congress late last year to approve a measure requiring the president to get legislative approval for any further missile destruction.

The hand held missiles are capable of shooting down a commercial jet on takeoff or landing. 

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli suggested the decision to withhold military aid is intended to influence the internal debate in Nicaragua and get the missile disposal process going again. 

Ereli said the suspension affects about $2 million in U.S. military aid, mainly for training and weapons credits.  He said the much larger U.S. economic aid program of more than $40 million a year continues. 

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 Our readers respond

Canadians notice error
in offshore article

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article in Monday's edition about Canadians investing in offshore companies makes an erroneous statement:

"Canada, unlike the United States and Costa Rica, does not have a global tax system. Canadian citizens, therefore, are able to collect foreign income without having to pay taxes on it." 

Canadians pay income tax on their worldwide income and have for a number of years. We have to declare any income from investments over $100,000 CDN that we have placed abroad, and we are taxed on that income.

There is more than one reason why Canadians come to live in Costa Rica.

Susan Goold
Rancho Redondo

He pays taxes on rents here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am just responding to your article re: foreign investment.

Generally in Canada, if a citizen spends 183 or more days in Canada a year, that person is required to declare any foreign income on the Canadian tax return, and pay taxes accordingly. As a house owner in Costa Rica and a citizen of Canada, I have to declare the rent here on my tax return (what little there is of it)

Geoff Barron

EDITOR’S NOTE: The letterwriters are correct and we meant to refer to Canadians living abroad in our news story. We updated the article at midday, thanks to the comments from these and other alert Canadians.

Tico from L.A. backing
the unvarnished truth

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was born in Costa Rica. I live in California, and I travel to Costa Rica as often as I can. I have been seeing a change in Costa Rica over the last few years. There are more crimes being committed, violent as well as petty. I thought that it was important that the English-speaking  foreigners should know exactly what is going on in the country they are planning on living in or visiting. 

This information should be exactly the way it is, both the good and the bad. I believe you, at A.M. Costa Rica are  doing an excellent job. La  Nación, the Spanish newspaper, does the same thing. You let the English-speaking visitors and residents of Costa Rica have a very good idea of what is going on. . . . To look for those places that are great to visit as well as where to avoid going to. 

You let us know what the thieves are doing in San José so we can be on our toes, and you also tell us what great things are happening just in case we want to be a part of it. 

Marco Chavarria 
Los Angeles, Calif.

Paper is not cheerleader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Pardon my bluntness, but readers Mario Rodríguez and Juan Carlos need to have their priorities readjusted. 

Both Rodríguez and Carlos stated that A.M. Costa Rica should try to focus on the positives more often. I'm sorry but I never knew it was a paper’s job to be a cheerleader. 

Both readers state that Costa Rica should be viewed in a more positive light, that since we are in the tropics, periodicos should be cheery. 

With a student missing in Tamarindo, drug busts occuring around the clock, enough corruption to make ENRON officials blush, and three ex-presidents on the political hot-plate it would seem that Costa Rica isn't the paradise Gringos want it to be. 

And maybe that is the problem. Gringos move down here to escape those cesspools in New York. After all, why spoil a good vacation with grim reality? 

At some point, however, they need to realize that the cheap health care is only cheap because of the American retirement funds they carry around, and that Costa Rica is still a developing nation. 

Jack McClure


Trickle of cell telephones
being offered March 28

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The telephone company says that even though cellular telephones are in high demand, some 10,000 users gave up their lines because they did not pay their bills.

So the telephone company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, says it will offer these lines for sale March 28.

Half the lines offered are the newer GSM and half are TDMA, the company said. The company did not explain how exactly 5,000 users of each service defaulted on their payments.

The company, known as ICE, ran out of cellular lines last December, but some 600,000 GM lines are expected to be in service by fall, thanks to a new, $130 million contract with Ericcson. Even though the contract is under investigation for irregularities by the company, the Contraloria Genera de la República, the financial watchdog, still authorized the agreement.

In order to secure a cell phone, a purchaser must present his or her cellular telephone device along with a receipt showing it has been purchased here. The would-be purchaser must pay 12,500 colons (about $27) and also provide photocopies of a cédula de identidad and a utility bill to document the home address. Corporate purchasers must also show a personaria juridica documenting the power of a corporate officer to act on behalf of the firm.

The last time ICE released a trickle of cellular telephones, long lines were encountered at issuing offices.

Professional Directory
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.


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An A.M. Costa Rica encore*
Who's that little guy on the shower door?
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

I have been taking showers these days with a lizard. Not Godzilla. A tiny house gecko who seems to get caught in the open when I switch on the bathroom light.

Life is good with geckos. They generally stay out of the way munching on small critters that you would rather not have around.

Our little geckos are about three inches long and move like the wind. Sometimes at night in the half light of the television, you will see one scurry up the wall in search of a meal. They say they make a clicking noise. But ours are quiet.

When we first came to Costa Rica we decided to spray insecticide at our small apartment, particularly under the baseboards and appliances where cockroaches might lurk. No sooner did we hit the kitchen floor with spray than a tiny gecko came running out, choking and gasping. Did you ever get told off by a gecko?

Since then we have let nature take its course, and what few cockroaches we see are usually about the same size as a gecko, much too big for dinner.

Just about any lizard seems to be good. Workmen in the attic last week found several big snake skins, shed by their owners. Although we are in the city, the adjacent field provides a smorgasbord for snakes.

The former resident told us she once made local television because a big snake dropped onto her door knob in the living room. Neither she nor her maid were big Animal Planet viewers, so they called the cops. TV crews were close behind, thinking the little boa was a python. A slow day.

Little creatures are the norm here, and geckos rate as companions much higher with us than, say, New York City rats. They are even kept as pets up north. 

Years ago I was on a U.S.-bound plane flying from 
Matzatlan. The couple in the seats in front of me were honeymooners from Chicago. They were cutting short their week stay because, as the new bride told me: "They had lizards crawling up the wall in our hotel room." Hubby rolled his eyes.

We’ve seen worse than geckos. And felt them, too, I thought, giving the marriage about a 50-50 chance.

*This article was published first last June 9. But we think it is cute and worth reprinting for those who may have missed it.

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Trafficking in persons is targeted in Caribbean area
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is working with the global community to help the countries of the Caribbean rid that region of the crime of trafficking in persons, says U.S. State Department official Kelly Ryan.

Ms. Ryan is the State Department's deputy assistant secretary within its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Ms. Ryan, in a talk last week, pointed to the case of a 16-year-old trafficking victim to explain why the State Department is so involved in the issue. Ms. Ryan said the victim went to a South American nation with the promise of work as a domestic helper. Once there, she was locked in an apartment and forced into prostitution. She had no contact with anyone except her enslavers and her prostitution customers, the state Department official said. She had no money and feared her plight would never change, Ms. Ryan added.

However, she was able to save herself by attracting the attention of a policeman, who helped her flee and put her in touch with the proper authorities to escape the situation, said Ms. Ryan.

"We are here for people like this girl," said Ms. Ryan "We are here to help prevent anyone from falling prey to traffickers."

The State Department said in its June 2004 "Trafficking in Persons Report" that each year an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders, with those numbers growing. Those figures are in addition to a far larger, yet indeterminate, number of people trafficked within countries.

Some 75 officials and experts gathered at a seminar, focusing on human trafficking in the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, the Netherlands Antilles, Saint Lucia and Suriname. The Organization of American States sponsored the event last week.

Pro-Castro backers denounce wives of jailed political prisoners in Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — More than 150 supporters of Fidel Castro interrupted a silent protest Sunday in Havana by wives of political prisoners arrested in the 2003 crackdown on dissidents.

Known as the Ladies in White, the dissidents' wives left church Sunday walking silently in single file and carrying flowers. They were stopped by the Castro 

supporters, who denounced them as          counter-revolutionaries. The activist group has staged protests demanding the release of their husbands and other opponents of Fidel Castro's government. 

Their husbands were among 75 people arrested in 2003 on charges of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba's government. 

Washington and the activists have denied the charges. 

Jo Stuart
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