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These stories were published Monday, April 12, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 71
Jo Stuart
About us
Registry law creates chance to steal property
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Most people are unaware of the changes to the property registration laws at the Registro Nacional or National Registry which were modified last year. However, these changes have opened the doors to shysters preying on the innocent.

Costa Rica’s registry laws are over 100 years old. This means they were written before computers existed. Because of this, no registration was ever deleted even if it was full of mistakes.

To fix this, on Nov. 22, 1998, a corrective measure was passed by the Asamblea Nacional.  Everyone was given up to five years to correct the property registration errors filling up the National Registry’s data banks. If they did not, the inscription and placement as a public record would be lost forever.  The five years was up Nov. 22.

Now the incorrect filings are purged automatically by the registry’s computers after one year.  However, if the error is taxes due on the property transfer or the document has the incorrect amount of fiscal stamps affixed to it, the record will be deleted after three months.

Filed paperwork can be wrong for the simplest of reasons: The text contains misspelling or transposition, the wrong glue was used to paste the bank receipts to the forms and they are loose, the papers are in the wrong order, a document is missing a fiscal stamp worth less than a cent, and the list goes on.

Once a document transferring a property is not registered and is canceled, the property reverts back to its original state and owner.  This is when the unscrupulous jump into the game.

They file false liens or other paperwork like simple but powerful letras, which means letters of credit in Costa Rica, against the property. Letras can be executed quickly, catching honest people off guard. Other scams include selling the property again to someone else or just not abiding by the original sale terms. 

Registro Nacional property search screen

There are things that can be done to protect an investment, even if it is removed from the public record, but these legal procedures are little known by the legal community or even by the best of attorneys.  Also, the statute of limitations is very short to correct an error, usually three months in most cases.

The worst part is most of these property transfer errors are either premeditated or due to sheer negligence.  Attorneys in Costa Rica are notorious for playing with their clients money and filing paperwork months after real estate property closings. They also do not follow up to see if everything is registered correctly.

To protect property, owners need to be proactive and not reactive in buying and selling property in this country.  They should learn how to use the great Internet interface provided by the National Registry.

They should check their property transfer often. If there are errors, they should bug their attorney until they are fixed. If a property owner is unhappy with a professional, they can make an official complaint to the Colegio de Abogados, the organization policing attorneys and their practices.

Mr. Baker is a local businessman who provides business services and solves problems for the international community in Costa Rica. He may be reached at info@crexpertise.com.  He has made a special study of the above problem.

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It’s back to work
for most Ticos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Most Costa Ricans are headed back to work this morning after a vacation of from three days to 10 days, depending on the place of employment.

Officials have listed 32 violent deaths over the Holy Week and Easter holiday, and motor vehicle deaths were nearly half at 15. Preliminary reports suggested that no tourists or members of the English-speaking community were among the dead.

The Policía de Tránsito were unable to maintain the low level of highway deaths, Only six died last year, and officials mounted a campaign to keep down the death toll. 

The violent deaths came from multiple causes, but there was just one murder, officials said. A more complete report is expected today.

Immigration officials reported that they had apprehended 2,443 persons who tried to enter the country illegally over the holidays. Most were Nicaraguans who were returned to their own country. More than 2,000 of these were caught near the Peñas Blancas border crossing in northwest Costa Rica.

Officials at the border crossing reported a slow day early Sunday. They said the flow of Nicaraguans returning legally from their own country to Costa Rica was lower than in previous years. The flow was expected to increase.

23 tons of shark fins
found in Barranca

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials confiscated an estimated 23 tons of shark fins Saturday when they investigated a truck parked in front of a seafood distributor in Barranca, Puntarenas.

Officials said the haul was worth many millions of colons. Two guards and the driver of the truck were held for questioning.

The shark fins are held in high regard, particularly in the Orient, but environmentalists deplore the practice of killing sharks simply for their fins.

Her family grows
by four more kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman in Puntarenas has given birth to quadruplets, something that only happens once every few years in Costa Rica.

The woman was identified as Damaris Castro, 28, who already had four children at home.

One child was delivered by natural birth Saturday at Hospital Monseñor Sanabria and the other three by caesarian section, attendants said.

The children are in good condition despite being premature, but they were taken to San José and the Hospital de Niños, which is the best facility in the country for caring for newborns.

Two more letters
about U.S. Embassy

The following are more letters submitted by readers after our criticism of the U.S. Embassy here March 16 and a subsequent rebuttal by embassy officials.

Informative and courteous

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have had nothing but cooperation and consideration from the U.S. Embassy in San José. From running my passport through the washing machine to getting a hurry-up visa for my wife and a U.S. passport for my daughter to accommodate travel arrangements.  Each staff member was informative and courteous. 

On the other hand, I witnessed strident and overbearing U.S. citizens each time I went to the embassy. I wonder how many of us could take what I saw dished out — on a daily basis. There's always two sides to every story. 

Gary Luedke
San José
They give her a hand

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The only experience I had with the U.S. Embassy here in Costa Rica is that they were closed during what I would think of as normal daily work hours. I still received what I asked for, however. Someone opened the door a few inches and handed me the forms I needed. I didn’t see a person, but I did see a hand. 

Laureen Diephof
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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Judas night festivities are blamed
Police make 64 arrests at mini-riots around valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 48 adults and 16 juveniles were detained Saturday night and early Sunday after acts of disorderly conduct and vandalism following the custom of "burning Judas."

In Pavas, a crowd turned on police when officers tried to stop fires set in garbage near vehicles parked adjacent to the police station. The ensuing rain of rocks and bottles forced two officers to take refuge inside the police station, officials said.

When other police cars arrived, they came under attack, officials said, noting that many in the crowd had just participated in a Catholic religious service in a nearby church. Arrested were a 16-year-old and five adults.

Walter Navarro, head of the Fuerza Pública reported disturbances and vandalism in San Rafael, Barba and Santa Bárbara de Heredia. Police had anticipated this and beefed up patrols. There had been trouble in the same places a year earlier.

Officials said the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the tactical squad, was brought in because of the large number of persons involved in acts of vandalism and also due to the great amount of 

damage done to buildings and commercial establishments in the communities.

In the Center of Barba, individuals broke the glass door of a Banco de Costa Rica branch. Some 14 persons, 12 adults and two minors, were detained after that incident.

In San Rafael de Heredia, Bajo Los Molinos and San Josecito, among other communities, crowds set up barricades and burned vehicle tires in the public right-of-way, officers said. The crowds also threw rocks at approaching patrol cars. Eight persons, four adults and four minors, were detained in those communities. In San Juan, revelers burned an old car and even an unoccupied home, police said. There and in the rest of Heredia some 30 adults and six minors were detained, police said.

Navarro said that quick police intervention prevented worse vandalism and damages.

The tradition of burning Judas is an annual event, usually connected with the construction of a straw and cloth effigy representing the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ, according to Christian theology. Nearly every community has some kind of event on the Saturday night of Holy Week.

But in El Cerro de Alajuela, a more placid night
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

When folks talk about rescuing old customs and traditions, they’re not really thinking about Judas Night. That’s the night before Easter when monstrous effigies stalked the roads, knocking on doors in the dark and scaring the sense out of those still awake. 

Sometimes old wooden houses would shake so badly the inhabitants thought it was an earthquake instead of the local lads. And sometime during the night the porch furniture and plants disappeared, and perhaps the front gate, the oxcart and the outhouse vanished too.

Easter morning found everyone out looking for their things and trying to sort out all the potted plants. Houses now have bars on the porches, but Judas Night is coming back and with a bang. The good part of Judas Night, making a scarecrow type figure and stuffing it with grass, straw and a few firecrackers to explode when the Judas is burned, has been resurrected.

In El Cerro de Alajuela, it was a mild Judas Night Saturday, but the prelude left the whole town laughing. Some youngsters and even their mother  spent the week making the Judas. 

The head was a big plastic bag with bulgy eyes 

drawn on and almost popping with stuffed Star of Africa grass. A hat was pulled down to help hold the head up. If the broad shoulders and belly under the plaid shirt didn’t match up with the skinny pelvis and legs, that was due to different sized castoffs. 

The boots were tattered but helped hold the monster up. Around 4 p.m. Judas was marched up the road to despedir or say good-bye to the people. Those accompanying him explained that since Judas was getting burned out, he was leaving. In some cases, the reason was that he didn’t like the town. Later, Judas was returned to his woodshed to be retrieved by truck that night.

Although it was not on the parish schedule for Holy Week, everyone knew that Judas would be cremated following the 8 p.m. Mass, and everyone from youngsters to the oldsters who remembered making their own Judases 50 years ago came to watch. But first there was the drive around town and to neighboring villages propped up in the bed of a truck with friends banging pots and yelling and making all kinds of noise to get everyone’s attention. Then it was back to the parish plaza.

The custom is coming back, sometimes with approval, sometimes with condemnation, and undoubtedly wilder in some areas. For most, it’s a bit of fun after a week of solemnity.

Chase by police ends in gunfire, two arrests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Fuerza Pública officer took a bullet in the foot Wednesday when he chased a man who was about to hold up a hardware store in San Francisco de Dos Ríos.

The officer returned fire and wounded a suspect three times in the legs.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública was happy to announce that officers had frustrated the robbery Wednesday. However, police officials expressed displeasure that one of the two men detained, the one with the wounds in the leg, had gotten out of jail on a similar charge just five days earlier.

They identified him by the last names of Artavia Olivas. They said he was 27 and with a record of robbery arrests. He left preventative detention April 12, said officials.

The second suspect was identified by the last names of Mairena Dubón. Police said he was a Nicaraguan, 24 years old, who entered the country March 4. He surrendered at the scene near the ISA company, which is east of San José.

Officers said that employees of the hardware and materials facility saw two men acting suspiciously and called police around noon. When police pulled up, the robbers began shooting and one fled.

Officer Delio Solís Castillo chased the fleeing man, and during an exchange of shots, he suffered a wound to the sole of his foot. The suspect later identified as Artavia was brought down by bullets in each leg, police said.

Officers said they confiscated a .38-caliber revolver with all cartridges fired. They also confiscated a pistol where Mairena was arrested, they said.

Both men were ordered held for three months preventative detention by a judge after a court session Saturday.

Officer dies in fight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A police officer died as the result of a fistfight in Villa Nueva de Aserrí Friday. The man was identified as Juan Cruz Méndez, 58, a 23-year member of the force.

Arrested was a man with the last name of Jiménez, 20-years-old, who, officials said, was involved in a brawl with the officer.

Cruz died from a severe blow to the head, perhaps a result of his head hitting the ground, investigators said. No cause was specified for the fight.

Tourists cut off when landslides hit main Machu Picchu route
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Perú _ Mudslides around Peru's Machu Picchu ruins have killed at least six people and some 1,500 tourists trapped as road and rail transit was cut off at the site. The government is mounting an air bridge to fly the trapped visitors out of the site. 

Unexpectedly heavy rains caused mudslides to dump into the river running beside the only rail and road transport to the ruins. The resulting flood blocked the road and destroyed six houses at Aguas Calientes, near the entrance to the ruins.  Officials said at least five people are still missing. 

President Alejandro Toledo happened to be at the

site for a travel documentary and promised to restore transportation out of the site as soon as possible. Meanwhile the government has mounted an airlift from the site to rescue the stranded tourists. 

The first of two avalanche's hit the town itself. A second mudslide later cut off rail transport from the historic Inca capital of Cuzco to the Machu Picchu site, some 500 kms (300 miles) southeast of here. The government must remove huge boulders from the tracks according to reports from the area. 

The Machu Picchu citadel which was built deep in the Amazon jungle by the Inca rulers before 1552 has drawn some 300,000 visitors every year.

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Homeland Security srikes again
'Prince or no prince, let's see your underwear'
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A routine airport security check has become an international incident after the Crown Prince of Spain was required to submit to having his baggage inspected.

The Miami Herald reported Saturday that Spanish Crown Prince Felipe, his fiancé and members of his entourage traveling through the city's international airport en route to Spain from The Bahamas Thursday had to open their bags to inspection.

International dignitaries can usually have their security screening process expedited with 72 

hours notice. The prince and his delegation had given the airport only six hours notice. When the group was informed their luggage would have to be searched, they complained bitterly.

A spokesman for the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration said that without a State Department escort, by law, the prince and his entourage had to be searched. 

Later Thursday, the mayor of Miami-Dade County sent the royal family a letter of apology. The Miami Herald also quoted an unnamed Spanish diplomatic official who called the situation a breech of protocol and that it was not the proper way to treat a future king. 

Powell says he doesn't think Haiti needs an army right now
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Haiti does not need an army and should focus on rebuilding its police force.

Secretary Powell made the remarks to independent Haitian station Radio Metropole in a recent interview. In a transcript of his comments, Powell said that while it is up to the Haitian people to decide what kind of institutions they need, he hopes the rebuilding of the police force will be their first priority. 

Powell told the station that the Haitian people need what he called a professional, confident, equipped police force. He went on to say any discussion of an army should come much later, after an elected Haitian government is put in place. 

Haiti's army was disbanded in 1995 by then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resigned 

and fled the country in February in the face of an armed rebellion. 

Powell was in Haiti Monday in a show of support for the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue. 

Meanwhile, Brazil's defense minister says his country will send almost 1,500 troops on a peacekeeping mission to Haiti, beginning in July. 

Defense Minister Jose Viegas also said in comments published Friday, that Brazil is favored to take command of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country at that time.  He added that some other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Peru, are offering to send peacekeepers. 

The U.N. Security Council has authorized for three months the current U.S.-led force in Haiti, which includes troops from Canada, Chile and Brazil as well.  Those troops began arriving the first of March after a three-week rebel uprising.

México reopens its market to more beef from the United States
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Mexico is reopening its markets to more U.S. beef products after banning the meat imports following a mad cow disease scare late last year.

In a release Friday, the Agriculture Department says Mexico has agreed to once again allow the importation of variety meats, veal and tallow. 

Combined with a decision last month to allow U.S. 

boneless beef products back in the country, Mexico now has reopened its borders to nearly $750 million in U.S. meat exports, or nearly 75 percent of the export levels of 2003.

In announcing the decision, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said reopening Mexico to more beef products is a very positive signal.

Mexico's beef ban resulted from a single incident of mad cow disease discovered in the U.S. Pacific Northwest last December.

Body of Salvadoran solder killed in Iraq returned to his home
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The body of a 19-year-old Salvadoran soldier killed in Iraq has been flown to his home country. 

Salvadoran officials say the body of Natividad Mendez Ramos arrived Friday at the Comalapa military base just outside of this capital. Defense Minister Juan Martinez was on hand to receive the casket. 

Burial was to be Saturday, in the soldier's hometown of Guaymango, 90 kms. (about 54 miles) southeast of here.

Mendez Ramos was killed April 4 during an attack on coalition forces near Najaf, Iraq. Twelve Salvadoran soldiers were wounded in the attack. 

The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador said in a recent statement that it is saddened by Mendez Ramos' death and that officials wish for a speedy recovery for the wounded soldiers. 

The statement added that the United States greatly appreciates the continued support of the Salvadoran government in what the embassy called this time of great difficulty. 

President Flores has said Salvadoran troops will remain in Iraq, but the government faces pressure from the opposition to withdraw them. 380 Salvadoran troops are serving in Iraq.

A Honduran soldier has become another casualty of the same attack. 

Honduran officials said Friday that mortar fragments hit Ramon Antonio Reyes in the shoulder and foot during the same attack in Najaf earlier this week. He is the first member of the 370-person Honduran contingent to be wounded by hostile fire in Iraq.  At least four others have been hurt in accidents in Iraq. 

Honduran soldiers now in Iraq are scheduled to finish a six-month tour of duty there at the end of July.

Jo Stuart
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