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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Wednesday, March 30, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 62
Jo Stuart
About us
Meanwhile, prices are soaring
Year-long series puts focus on real estate here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For nearly a year, A.M. Costa Rica has been trying to explain the dynamic and important real estate market to English-speakers.

The series originated in the e-mails and telephone calls from readers. Some had lost money in scam real estate investments or through outright theft.

A contributing factor was the complexity of the real estate law here and differences from laws in the states and provinces where readers have lived, not to mention the frequent language barrier.

During the year that these reports have been published, property values, particularly those on the Pacific coast and in smaller communities, have continued to increase. And the scope of the reporting has changed and become more complex. The articles usually are published Mondays.

One article, for example, reported on the changes in the law that now make it easier for landlords to raise the rents on tenants. The results of this change can be seen all over Costa Rica as smaller enterprises are being forced out of their long-time locations in favor of new projects and developments.

The article also suggests to readers that they might consider owning rental property because the law now is not as stacked in favor of tenants.

By far, the best received articles told readers the legal steps they could take to avoid losing their property. Among these techniques are self-issued mortage certificates.

An article last month entitled  "Please don’t die before reading this article" explains the steps readers could take to protect their assets and heirs from others and the tax man in the event of death.

One subject of special interest to investors and purchasers of property is the Maritime-Terrestrial Zone.  In the last five years, land close to the ocean has increased in value astronomically. But gaining control of such land is a complex undertaking, as outlined in another article.

The bulk of the articles were prepared for A.M. Costa Rica by businessman Garland M. Baker with the help of lawyer Allan Garro. Each has spent in some cases days researching the finer points of the law and custom.

Articles about Parrita-based Paragon Properties were written by other staff members. These articles outlined a new phenomenon in Costa Rica real estate, the telephone and Internet marketing to North Americans. A related article also provided tips for readers who might be thinking of purchasing land in a new subdivision.

In another article, Baker outlined a law to protect citizens, residents, non-residents, everyone, against the excess of governmental requirements and administrative procedures. The measure was passed in 2002 but is not well-known.

If, despite the information in the articles, a reader gets in trouble with professionals, one report tells how any citizen can make a complaint against a lawyer who has violated in any way the code of ethics set forth by the Colegio de Abogados. 

Another relates how the consumer protection law in Costa Rica, a model law for Latin America, works well if you know how to use it.

Just last month Baker showed how high-resolution photos from space of Costa Rica are now available to the general public, via Google’s Keyhole Corp. Real estate developers can do site analysis and prepare movies for prospective clients along with high-resolution printouts. Plus the photos can be a key element in developing official real estate maps of the country.

Such maps will make property ownership even safer.

But problems remain. One article tells how the Sala IV constitutional court ducked key decisions on rights.

The court of Costa Rica, had a chance to decide conflicting views of who will be protected in real estate fraud cases. Much to the amazement of some in the Costa Rican legal community, the court decided not to decide, leaving certain ownership rights in question.

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New taxes being considered
as way to help Guanacaste

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers are considering new taxes or levies in order to finance a development corporation for Guanacaste.

Although the region is rich in beaches and hotels, it still is considered the poorest province in the nation.

Some residents and national deputies who represent the area are considering a bill to create the Corporación de Desarrollo Integral Sostenible de Guanacaste. The measure was considered by the Comisión Permenente de Gobierno y Administración in the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday.

As the title suggests, the development corporation would seek sustainable ways to develop the economy of the region.

One way would be to create more agricultural industries that would package and process food for the many hotels along the Pacific beaches, said deputies. Another would be to produce alcohol from agricultural products and to cultivate fish. An agro-industrial park was suggested near the community of Cañas.

To do that, the legislature would need money. Suggestions ranged from a tenth of 1 percent tax on power generation allocated to the region. 

Another proposal was to assess each person who enters the country via the busy Peñas Blancas border point $1. Another idea was to tax aircraft that land at Daniel Oduber International Airport near Liberia $50 each and assess $10 against each ship that ties up at one of the marinas in Guanacaste.

A proposal also was advanced to earmark 3 percent of the 10 percent tax collected on tourism industries for the development corporation. 

Collection of import duties
up more than 23 percent

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Hacienda said Tuesday that the collection of duties by customs agents is up more than 23 percent over the same period in the prior year.

The Dirección General de Aduanas has collected 64.3 billion colons in duties already this year, said a release from the ministry. That’s $138 million.

Hacienda, the budget ministry, suffered a shock in 2003 when duty collections dipped more than 13 percent. Federico Carrillo Zucher, the current minister, said that the larger income is the work of customs, the Policía Fiscal and Tributación and their fight againt fraud and tax evasion.

The ministry said that a number of discrepancies have turned up in a study of the customs system. For example, in February only 24 of 73 shipments of frozen french fries from Canada met the requirements of a free trade treaty between the two nations, the ministry said. Those who shipped the french fries that did not qualify for preferred tax treatment had to pay an additional 181.9 million colons in duty, the ministry said. That’s about $390,000.

One case was uncovered where a private individual issued false documents in some 200 transactions, signing the names of customs inspectors and using their identification numbers, said Luis Gómez Sánchez, director of customs.

The ministry also said that in a sampling of 214 shipments, some 43 percent did not coincide with the classifications declared by the shipper. The result was lower duties.

The ministry also said it had uncovered a fraud involving the importation of 17 vehicles to the tune of 7.9 million colons, some $17,000, in duties.

Our readers' opinions

Translation of official's talk
gives new point of view

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Since you write your paper in English, I know your fluent and can read & write in perfect detail. But it has come to my attention that maybe you may not be fluent in the language of Newspeak. 

In effort to provide you and the general Costa Rican public with the right tools and decoding necessary to understand Newspeak, I have translated a few items from the article you posted on the U.S. report for human rights development. 

The following are some passages from Michael Kozak. To the naked eye they look like fluent English, but in Newspeak, there is a totally different meaning. Enjoy! 

"It's not what we do, as much as what people inside do. At the end of the day, it's going to be people taking back their own countries." 

Translation: "We spent too much on wars already, the one now isn't going well and it's growing more unpopular by the day, we can't spend any money on you because we have run out of sources to milk the American people from . . . unless you have oil." 

"We can show support for that," he said. "We can give them help and the tools to be able to do that. " 

Translation: " We can sell you bad intelligence, we can sell you weapons, we can send in clandestine spies, helpful military personnel, and for the right amount, we can drop a big bomb aeronautically persuade the opposition." 

"But it's a question at the end of the day of their will, their commitment." 

Translation: "We take cash(euro's please), VISA, AMEX, MASTERCARD, DINER"S CLUB, FOOD STAMPS, TREASURY BONDS, CHINESE IMPORTED COMMODITIES, NATURAL RESOURCES and if you have oil, special rates apply; see details." 

Mr. Kozak said there was no uniform approach to advancing human rights, and that, in some cases, incentives are better than sanctions, and, in others, intensive U.S. engagement with governments works best. 

Especially in the US, no uniform or comprehensible way of advancing human rights. More widening class division than ever, more corporate greed and welfare, more corrupt political lobbying and payoffs, more censored press and information through intimidation, more personal identity information gathering for federal misuse use, more laws snuck into session without public notice or debate, more evaporation of public health care. Human rights? What are those? 

How about the U.S. taking care of some of it's people at home for a change. 

Nick Vega
Atlanta, Ga.
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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Shootings at La Nación gain international notice
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica's reputation for respecting press freedom is threatened by two separate gunfire attacks against the offices of the newspaper La Nación in March, says a global press advocacy group called the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In a statement this week, the New York-based committee, which advocates freedom of the press, said three unidentified assailants fired several shots from a moving vehicle at the newspaper building March 23. No one was injured in the attack, which caused slight damage to the building. The location is in Tibás, north of San José.

Two weeks earlier, on March 8, an unidentified individual fired several shots at the paper's security post, where guards watch over the newspaper's parking lot and administrative offices. The attacker apparently got into a waiting car and fled. Two guards were forced to take cover, but no injuries were reported.

Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Costa Rica is "known as a country where press freedom is widely respected, but these violent incidents undermine that reputation." She called on the Costa Rican government to take measures to "ensure journalists are able to work freely and without fear of retaliation."

Armando González, La Nación's managing editor, told the committee that his newspaper had not received any threats before the attacks, but said he was concerned that someone might be trying to intimidate journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journaists noted that La Nación has broken major stories, such as in 2004 when the paper played a key role in uncovering corruption scandals that ended with the arrests of former Costa Rican presidents Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría and Rafael Calderón Fournier, each of whom was held on bribery charges. The arrest of Rodríguez also resulted 

in his resignation as secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

La Nación has also supported the U.S. free trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic, which Costa Rica signed in 2004. The committee noted that the trade pact has met fierce opposition from some groups in Central America, including trade unions and farmers.

Another global press advocacy group, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, conducted a 2002 survey, which found that Costa Rica is "traditionally Latin America's best performer in terms of press freedom." In February 2002, Costa Rica ceased to give prison sentences to those found guilty of "insulting" public officials, said Reporters Without Borders.

The U.S. State Department, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices — 2004, said the Costa Rican constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Costa Rican government generally respected these rights in practice.

However, the State Department report, released Feb. 28, quoted a survey by La Nación of 184 journalists on their perceptions of freedom of the press in the country. The August 2003 survey found that 41 percent of the journalists said they left out information in reporting because of legal concerns, 79 percent said they felt pressure not to investigate certain issues, and 22 percent claimed that they had received some type of threat during the previous 12 months relating to the performance of their job.

But the State Department also said a public-opinion poll conducted in December 2003 by a Costa Rican polling firm found that 61 percent of respondents indicated they believed the Costa Rican press was at liberty to inform the public, compared with 33 percent in 2001. This change in the public's perception was attributed to journalists' investigative reports of high-level corruption scandals throughout 2003.

Average dates estimated for change of the seasons
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional reports that the 2005 rainy season will arrive within the average range for all sections of the country.

The weather institute noted that the first place to see the change from the dry Costa Rica "summer" to the rainy "winter’ is the far south Pacific where the change is expected this week. 

The weather institute also is predicting higher than normal temperatures during April.

Expected dates for the arrival of the rainy season are:

Palmar Sur (south Pacific coast): April 1 to 5.

Cartago: May 6 to 10.

Alajuela: May 6 to 10.

San José: May 11 to 15

Quepos: May 11 to 15

Northern Guanacaste: May 20 to 30.

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Unique and historical orphan films are finding a home
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

It's been 110 years since motion pictures were first projected. Some of the early films and other of note are being collected and cared for so future generations can see this history.

One short length of film is the first attempt to synchronize sound with projected moving image. It was made in 1895 at Thomas Edison's workshop and shows some of his engineers playing a violin and dancing. This valuable piece of history could have been lost, but was restored and is now preserved in the Library of Congress by its National Film Registry, a program that protects artifacts from American film history. 

"There are many reason why a title may be placed on the registry, but most important is that it has been important to the American people in the 100 year history of film," says Gregory Lukow, who is head of the film division at the library.

Movies are a cultural reference point in America. They form a common experience, a shared understanding that also can cross international boundaries. The National Film Registry now designates 400 films for preservation with more added each year. The choices are not always obvious. 

"It's not just the best of Hollywood, it's not the Academy Awards, or the Peoples Choice or the Golden Globes. It represents other niches and crannies of film making that have been important to the country but haven't stood in the glare of the spotlight," said Lukow.

Some of the registry's films have little commercial value, and no one else to make sure they are preserved.

"There is a whole category of what we call 'orphan films', the films that don't necessarily have a rights holder, no one to protect them. The saddest era is the era of silent films, 70 percent to 80 percent of silent films no longer exist in any form," said Lukow.

The Film Registry restored and preserves a 1909 special effects gem called "Princess Nicotine." Its shows early special effects tricks like stop motion animation and double exposure. At only five minutes in length, "Princess Nicotine" is a novelty in today's entertainment world but it shows where today's special effects originated.

Steve Leggett also works with film at the Library of Congress, and deals with the physical aspects of film preservation. 

"Films before 1950, there's another problem, they were made on nitrate film stock which is very flammable. So in a lot of cases that has deteriorated beyond recognition. After 1950 films sometimes start smelling like vinegar and curl up. And then again, that's another problem," said Leggett.

It's not just a question of preserving negatives, sometimes whole segments are gone. The restoration of this 1930 film about the First World War, called "All Quiet on the Western Front," required an international search for missing parts.

"It's an international hunt. The Library of Congress has worked with other archives to coordinate major international repatriations of large groups of lost American films from the silent era and beyond that no longer existed in the United States anywhere but have survived over the decades in places like Czechoslovakia or Australia or New Zealand or the Netherlands. In some cases these countries were at the end of the global distribution chain and once they reached there, there was no incentive to pay to send them back, so they stayed there," said Lukow.

The movies are one of America's most important exports, and a vivid expression of its culture.

"It's the way we communicate with each other. It's a way we share our culture with each other. But mostly it has become a collective history," said Lukow. 

U.S. moves to beef up border security before private militia arrives
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. government is increasing security along part of the U.S.-Mexican border, in a bid to cut down on illegal immigration.

A new Homeland Security Department initiative will bring more agents, aircraft and technology to watch 420 kilometers of borderlands in the state of Arizona. That’s 260 miles.

Those measures will be announced Wednesday, two 

days before a private group known as the Minuteman Project starts its own month-long Arizona border patrol.

Illegal immigration has become a more pressing issue in the United States as the number of people trying to enter through Mexico increases and officials warn that al-Qaida operatives may be among them.

Last year, the U.S. Border Patrol caught more than 500,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona alone. A Border Patrol spokesman, Andy Adame, predicts that number will rise once the new measures are implemented.

Jo Stuart
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