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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, March 27, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 61          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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For employers, homebuyers and homeowners
The help you need to sort out the credit bums

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Foreigners and expats here have a tool to check out potential employees, contractors, domestics and even real estate brokers and other business associates.

And they really need these tools.

As an example, 75 percent of the applicants to a recent clerical job opening in Costa Rica had serious credit problems.  Employers need to know this information because many believe that individuals up to their eyeballs in debt are more likely to steal on the job.

The tool is the six credit reporting agencies in Costa Rica.

Over the past 14 years, Costa Rican companies have used the information found in these data bases to make credit decisions much like in the United States.  However here, only bad credit is reported, unlike the United States where good credit is calculated into a FICO score.  FICO is a mathematical model created by the Experian credit bureau as a tool for lenders to use in evaluating the risk associated with lending money.

More recently, companies like Cero Riesgo are compiling information for employment proposes.  In addition to bad credit and other judicial problems, they can provide complete work evaluations for employers upon request.   They do this by calling each employer in a person’s employment history, as reported by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the social security administration, and filling out an evaluation questionnaire over the telephone.

However, potential job applicants have so much bad credit and other legal problems it is hard for an employer to find someone without bad credit.

The barrage of credit cards into the Costa Rican market over the past 20 years, and the exorbitant interest rates on them, have pushed common people into debtors’ hell.   Costa Ricans also have a tendency to avoid worrying about tomorrow.

Credit card companies insist their interest rates are not usurious but are required because of the high number of bad debts.   Judges in the civil courts loudly complain they are the unpaid workers of credit card companies because 80 percent of collection cases in the courts are due to credit cards.

Credit reporting companies have had an uphill climb in Costa Rica to obtain the information they require to provide accurate information. They have fought hard in court to obtain all the data they can from every thinkable resource of personal information, including but not limited to, phone records, light and water bill data, vehicles and property registrations, and drivers license records and photographs to add to their databases.

Public interest groups fight hard to keep financial information private. However, the constitutional court’s general position is that any information existing in the public realm should be available to all in the interest of open and free commerce.  Based on this, reporting agencies purchase hard data or online instant access to public entities like the Registo Nacional and the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, the transportation ministry, along with other institutions to fill their data banks.

For a potential employee or a borrower, this means one's dirty laundry, as in bad credit, legal problems, and employment history is available for everyone to see.  Everyday, more and more data is added, and privacy is extinguished. Each Costa Rican citizen has a unique cédula number that makes checking easy.

For the lender or the newly arrived property buyer, this information is invaluable to making good decisions.  It is interesting that as more information is available, interest rates do not appear to be declining to reflect reduced risk.

For the employer, warning flags pop up when investigating job applicants if bad credit is
Who are the agencies?

Here are the six credit reporting agencies in Costa Rica: Teletec is the oldest and most widely used. It was founded in 1992.  Cero Riesgo S.A. is catching up fast with more information for employment related decisions. Infor.net is more for Central America than Costa Rica.

Cero Riesgo S.A.  http://www.ceroriesgo.co.cr/
InfoCrédito (Teletec)   http://www.teletec.co.cr/
Protectora de Crédito Comercial S.A.  http://www.alaic.com/
Trans Union Costa Rica:  http://www.tuca.org/

Infor.net, founded in Guatemala and working with ChoicePoint of the United States, has information on over 18 million Central Americans.  Worldwide intelligence agencies use the databases of Infor.net regularly.

habitual.  The flags reflect potential employees’ inability to keep their life in order meaning they probably will not keep their job in order.

Serious credit problems, jumping from job to job, and legal problems send up warning signs like fireworks that a person may steal.  Employee theft — pilfering, larceny and embezzlement to name a few — comes under the umbrella of fraud. However defined, the result is the same: businesses suffer a loss because an employee unlawfully takes something from an employer.

On average, it takes 18 months for an employer to catch an employee who is stealing. Most employee theft either comes to the attention of the employer by another employee or found out by accident.

According to the theory of Dr. Donald R. Cressey called the “Fraud Triangle” there are three factors — each a leg of the triangle — that, when combined, lead people to commit fraud in the workplace.

One leg is an individual's financial problems.  The second leg is this individual's perception that there exists at the place of business an opportunity to resolve the financial problem without getting caught. The third leg is the individual's ability to rationalize or justify the intended illegal action.

The key ways to prevent employee theft is through screening job applicants thoroughly before hiring them in the first place. Background checks should be performed and should include a check on criminal history, civil history, driver's license violations, as well as verification of education, past employment (including reasons for leaving), and references.

It is not expensive for even small companies to use credit-reporting services in Costa Rica.  Monthly service fees are as little as 5,000 colons (less than $10) that include a number of reports as part of the package.

Homebuyers, property sellers and others can use these services to check out the financial standing of professionals they might hire to help them. In the case of some professionals, like lawyers and notaries, the various professional groups also maintain records showing prior misconduct or complaints.

In the case of the recent stack of job applications, of some 20 different names and cédula numbers, 15 had three or more legal actions as a result of credit card problems.

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.  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at crlaw@licgarro.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 2004-2006, use without permission prohibited.

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Arias and Solís both have
finances on their minds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez and ex-presidential candidate Ottón Solís met Friday at the Arias home in Rohrmoser.

There was no indication that any political accords were reached, but both have concerns in common about the failure of the current legislature to pass the massive fiscal reform package.

The pair also have deep differences on the free trade treaty with the United States. Arias supports ratification. Solís has backed away from his campaign position that the treaty could be renegotiated. He has refused as a joke Arias' suggestion that he go to Washington to explore renegotiations.

Meanwhile, the collapse of the fiscal or new tax plan has generated reverberations. The Sala IV constitutional court said the Asamblea Legislative used unconstitutional means to ram through a preliminary approval.

The Central Bank now seeks to freeze its plan to have the assembly transfer $2.8 billion in debt to the general treasury. The bank, which has the right to print money, generated the deficit from years of supporting the foreign exchange rate of the colon.

The Ministerio de Hacienda, if allowed by the legislature, was going to use the anticipated $500 million annual new taxes from the fiscal plan to leverage long-term bonds to cover the Central Bank's debt.

The ministry itself now says that half of the nation's budget is paid for with borrowed money.

Other politicians expect a flurry of actions by Arias when he takes office to prop up the nation's finances.

RACSA promises wireless
all over metropolitan area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet provider, says it will make an area west of San José a wireless hot spot starting in April.

The company said it will use WiMax technology that will allow computer users to install a small antenna to access a signal beamed from a mountaintop.

The signal has an 8 kilometer radius and will include Santa Ana and Escazú, the company said. Similar systems will be installed from Alajuela to Tres Rios, the company said, providing total coverage of the Metropolitan area.

In addition to an antenna, users will need a converter box and a computer that can receive and generate wireless signals. The signals also can be received by any number of hand-held personal assistants like Palm and others.

The company, known as RACSA, said that the service is now being offered near the court complex in downtown San José and in Juan Santamaría airport.

Similar services are being offered in cafes and restaurants by private companies which provide wireless hookups with limited range, usually for a fee.

Our reader's opinion
Problem with news media
are stories out of context

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Concerning the subject of Ms Stuart Friday's editorial, the general complaint is not the fact that bad news is reported 24/7 and good news is not.   It is that the bad news is reported without context.

For example, the most efficient non-lethal war in history is portrayed as a total failure (another Vietnam?) in the mainstream media.  Saddam & sons no longer have the capacity to kill, torture, or invade neighboring countries.  Fewer Iraqi civilians have died in their liberation than under their repression (without a war).  Al Qaeda terrorists are being killed every week.  Al Qaeda terrorists tried to ignite a civil war and failed.  Everyday, more Iraqi security fighting forces are replacing U.S. soldiers.  A new Iraqi designed democracy (freedom) has a foothold in the Middle East!

By what measure is this war going poorly?

Context has meaning.  The mainstream media is ignoring Mr.  Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister who conveyed to the French intell agency that Saddam was stockpiling chemical weapons.   You have an ex-Iraqi air force general, claiming these WMDs were shipped to Syria during the U.N. debate months before the war. 

Recently translated documents illustrates Saddam financial support for al Qaeda before the war.  All these stories can be found buried on the CNN web site.  If these stories are factual enough to be advanced on their web site, why are they not a part of the mainstream media's context for this war?  If the story does not advance an ideology, it gets buried or spun.

Words have meaning.  Journalists are wordsmiths who carefully select their words to inflate their stories (& bad news sells).   Is it an "occupation" or a "liberation"?  An "occupation" implies fewer freedoms and the lost of national treasures.  Are they "insurgents" or "terrorists"?  The former implies 'freedom fighter' against an "occupying force" and the latter implies forcing ideologies through terror against innocent civilians.  By inflaming and/or exaggerating, the story becomes an editorial.

The profession of journalism has degraded from an advocate for you and me to an advocate for you against me (or vice versa).  This is the general sad perception of the news media today.  We, as responsible consumers of the media, have to peel away the exaggerations, put the story in context yourself, often times listen to what is not said, and research important topics beyond headlines and ideological web sites.

Steve C.
San José
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 61


This photograph was taken from the air Friday by Federico Chavarría Kopper, who was working with the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The photo was taken a little more than an hours after the first eruption.

Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica photo

Tour site Volcán Poás infrequently behaves badly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volcán Poás, generally a quiet crater lake much visited by tourists, can make itself widely known.  For example, in 1910 the volcano sent up a column of ash 8 kms. higher than its 2,500-meter peak and spread the cinders as far east as Cartago.

The volcano sent up a column 7 kms. higher than its crater in 1953 during a flurry of activity that year.

But most of the time, Poás behaves nicely and restricts its volcanic activity to its crater and the immediate surrounding area.

That's why officials are not overly concerned about activity in the volcano that began about noon Friday. The park surrounding the volcano has been closed until further notice.

Since Friday at least 10 eruptions have taken place, most consisting of some mud, ash and gas. Five eruptions took place Saturday. Three eruptions took place Sunday afternoon. But the activity stayed in the crater, which continues to emit gas.

Six-mile high columns of smoke and ash probably will not be seen during this volcanic cycle, but officials are continuing to study the volcano to try to get an idea of what to expect.

The Fuerza Pública, the Policía de Tránsito, the Cruz Roja, the Red Sismológica Nacional of the Universidad de Costa Rica, the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional and the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias all have a role in the investigation.

The emergency commission said that poor visibility and rain were hampering efforts.

The volcano is erupting under the lake and sending

Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico photo
What tourists usually see if the weather is clear

columns of mud, ash and water skyward. The color of the normally blue-green crater lake is now a murky white.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico said some of its staff entered the crater Saturday between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. to find expelled material spread out fan shaped over some 300 meters or 975 feet.

They also reported that they found dozens of small impact craters up to 700 meters east of the area of volcanic activity. That's about 2,300 feet. A nearby seismic station's reported continual small tremors inside the mountain.

Lidier Esquivel, chief of Prevención for the emergency commission, said that closing the park was not only a safety measure but a way to further the activities of the scientists who are working there. A meeting today may result in changes to the access policy.

Subscribers to A.M. Costa Rica's daily digest got an update on the volcano situation Friday. Those who are not subscribed to this daily summary of events can do so HERE!

Keep things in the correct place, and duck a swift kick
El burro por delante para que no se espante

“Keep the donkey out front so he won’t make trouble.” In  meaning and usage, this dicho has much in common with the English  expression “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”

When I was in the second grade our teacher used el burro por delante para que no se espante as a way of teaching us that in writing and speaking we should not put ourselves first. We should always say mis amigos y yo rather than yo y mis amigos as in English,  “my friends and I” (or me, depending on the verb) rather than “I and my friends.”

In short, this dicho refers to the importance of keeping things in their proper place and ordering one’s priorities.

When we were kids, one of our aunts had a large farm in Guanacaste. There were many animals, including a large herd of cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and donkeys.

We loved to ride the horses along the beach, but my mother preferred that I ride one of the donkeys because he was slow, safe, and even-tempered. There was one particular donkey that I liked, and I named him Amigo.

Once, when my little brother was just learning to walk, he toddled into the pen where my aunt’s prize bull was kept. When my mother saw where her baby had got to she nearly went crazy. But my aunt told her to be calm and quiet or she might frighten the child who then could do something to attract the bull’s attention.

Finally, it was decided that my donkey should be put into the pen to distract the bull away so that someone could then go in and rescue the child. This, of course, upset me greatly because I didn’t want my dear little burro to be hurt or maybe killed by 2,000 pounds of raging pot roast. But, of course, there was a human life at stake, so Amigo was brought and put into the pen.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

The donkey immediately attracted the huge bull’s attention, and as he moved menacingly in the donkey’s direction my mother rushed into the pen and snatched my brother from harm’s way. I, however, was still  concentrating intently on the tense situation that was developing between the animals in the pen.

The bull had been momentarily distracted from Amigo by my mother, when she ran into the pen and grabbed the baby. And, in that very moment, when the bull had turned away from the donkey, that’s when Amigo struck. Suddenly he kicked the bull hard with his hind legs and then galloped frantically off as the stunned bovine stumbled around trying to regain his balance.

Amigo ran toward the gate, and when he got there I opened it just enough to let him escape and then slammed it shut before the now infuriated bull could follow.

To me this little story illustrates nicely today’s dicho in that it’s better to keep a donkey out front where you can keep an eye on him, and not turn your back, because no matter how slow, safe, and even- tempered he may seem, he’s likely to give you a kick when you least expect it.

Therefore, it’s best to keep both horses and donkeys out in front of their carts where they belong.

A.M. Costa Rica

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Caracas archbishop among those elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Pope Benedict held the second of two ceremonies Saturday for the installation of 15 new cardinals of the Catholic Church. After receiving their red hats, on Saturday they were given the rings, symbols of their high office. Among them is Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, the archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela.

For the second day running, Saint Peter's Square was filled with friends and family members of the new cardinals and pilgrims wanting to celebrate them in their new appointments. Pope Benedict appeared in resplendent gold and white vestments and addressed those gathered.

"For me it is a source of great joy to preside at this concelebration with the new cardinals after yesterday's consistory," said the pope. Then added that it was a great gift to conduct this evocative celebration on the day the church celebrates the Annunciation.

The 15 new "princes" of the church come from 10 countries beside Venezuela. They include the archbishops of Manila in the Philippines, Seoul in South Korea and Toledo in Spain.
The oldest new cardinal at 87, Peter Poreku Dery, was a leader of the pan-African Bishops' Conference and an opponent of family planning programs in his native Ghana.
In his homily, Pope Benedict recalled that it is just one year ago since the pontificate of his predecessor Pope John Paul II entered its final phase, full of suffering and yet triumphant.

The new cardinals, also dressed in gold and white vestments and red skullcaps, kneeled before the pope and were handed their rings, a symbol of loyalty to their vocation and union with the Catholic Church and the pope.

"The ring, which I confer upon you today, proper to the dignity of cardinals, is intended to confirm and strengthen your commitment to watch over the Holy Church," said Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict has a busy schedule ahead next month. On the 3rd, a special mass will be held to remember Pope John Paul II, and on the 9th, Holy Week ceremonies will begin with Palm Sunday and culminating on Easter Sunday.

Big rally in L.A. opposes criminal penalties proposed for illegal aliens
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hundreds of thousands of marchers crowded the streets of Los Angeles Saturday to protest proposals to toughen enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Similar demonstrations have taken place in other cities, but this was the largest.

The marchers chanted "Si se puede," a Mexican-American rallying cry that means "yes, we can."

They hope to block a bill already passed by the House of Representatives that would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant in the United States. The bill, which is not yet law, would also penalize those who help or hire illegal immigrants, and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department says about 500,000 people marched Saturday.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the son of an immigrant, and he spoke in English and Spanish at
the downtown rally. He later told reporters that people who come to his city to work are not committing a crime. "We cannot criminalize people who are working, people who are contributing to our economy, and contributing to the nation," he said.

Protesters say the United States needs workers and the unemployed in Mexico need jobs. One counter-protester said there are laws already in place for people to enter the country. "I'd like to see immigration laws being enforced," he said.

President Geroge Bush used his weekly radio address to repeat his call for a guest worker program that would provide legal status, but not citizenship, for some illegal immigrants in the United States.

Some in his own Republican Party, including Senate majority leader Bill Frist, say border security and enforcement should shape the debate over immigration reform. Some other Republicans, and many Democrats, support some form of guest worker program. The Senate will begin debating the issue next week.

Indians in Ecuador call off temporarily their protests over free trade
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Indian protesters in Ecuador have temporarily called a halt to nationwide demonstrations over the government's free trade talks with the United States.

The decision came hours after security forces clashed with protesters in the capital city of Quito Thursday. About 400 police officers used tear gas to prevent about 500 students and Indians from marching.
At least two police officers and one Indian were injured in the confrontation in the province of Imbabura, north of the capital.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador has been protesting the trade talks since March 13 by blockading roads, tying up traffic and halting commerce across the highlands. Protesters fear the trade deal will put them at a disadvantage with U.S. farmers and further disrupt Indian culture.

Jo Stuart
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