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(506) 223-1327              Published Monday, April 16, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 74          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Ticos have to wrestle with 55-year-old law
Burden of evidence is on those seeking a U.S. visa

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

A trip to the U. S. Embassy before Semana Santa proved very interesting and enlightening. The visit shed light on a long-standing irritation for Costa Ricans.

An expat asked an embassy worker how he could expedite his Tica girlfriend’s tourist visa application so she would not have to wait in line.  There were at least 100 visa applicants waiting to speak with a consular officer that morning.  The embassy worker asked him if he wanted to speak with a senior consular officer.  He said yes and sat down to wait.

The embassy was busy that day, but after about an hour, the man’s number came up and he went to the appropriate window.

Overhearing the conversation, what the senior official told the man was a surprise.  He said that the immigration law has something in it called the “presumption of immigration” and the man’s girlfriend was just going to have to follow the same procedures as everyone else in applying for a tourist visa.  A tourism visa is a class B1/B2 visa for a temporary visitor to enter the United States on business or pleasure.

The “presumption of immigration?” What is that?

Section 214(b) Immigration and Nationality Act states “Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he/she establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he/she is entitled to a nonimmigrant status...”

This means anyone applying for a tourist visa is guilty — their intent is to stay in the United States — unless they can prove their innocence, meaning they are not going to stay.  Most denials of visa application are due to Section 214(b).

Junior consular officers make their decision after a short interview where they evaluate if an applicant has “strong ties” to their home country.  The officer bases the decision on subjective intent — the presumption of immigration with the burden on the alien to show that they will not stay in the United States.

What are “strong ties”?

A job, a house, a family and a bank account are just a few of the criteria that make up strong ties to a home country.  They differ from country to country and individual to individual.

A consular officer is the judge and jury.  He or she must weigh the facts and decide on the spot whether an individual can have a visa.  There is no avenue for an appeal or judicial review. The official makes use of several data bases which may show, for example, that the applicant already has a  California driver's license or has overstayed  a U.S. visa in the past.

Upon visa denial, the only thing an applicant can do is to try again, presenting new convincing evidence of strong ties. And the applicant has to pay the $114 in fees again and probably will miss another day of work to attend the interview. Some consular officials say they will entertain informal appeals, but there is no formal process.

Some expats who have girlfriends or boyfriends in Costa Rica who do not qualify for a United States visa believe marriage is the answer to getting their companion into the United States.

This is a misconception.  A spouse of a United States citizen must also file for the same visa —

temporary visitor for business or pleasure, class B1/B2 — as everyone else to enter the country.  The same requirements apply.

This is true unless the alien plans to live in the United States with the United States citizen.  In that case, the alien must file for a K3 non-immigrant visa.  Again, the presumption is immigration so to file for a K3 visa, one must have an immigrant visa petition filed on his/her behalf by the U.S. citizen spouse.  This is a lot of paperwork and approval takes time, so it is not a quick route to a visa.

The Immigration and Nationality Act is 55 years old — created in 1952 — covering the immigration, temporary admission, naturalization, and removal of aliens.

Many people believe Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act is too restrictive and is hampering the United States’ scientific and economic competitiveness as well as security interests because is also applied in considering student visas.

The system frequently results in bad public relations for the embassy like when a Costa Rican mother initially was denied a visa to attend the funeral of her U.S. Army sergeant son who was killed in Iraq. Repeatedly Costa Ricans complain of being denied a visa without any or an an adequate explanation.

There is one fact beyond dispute.  The embassy workers are in a difficult situation.  It is evident by sitting in the waiting room and listening to the multitude of questions they are asked, most people do not have a clue what the United States immigration law is or does. 

The United States Department of State’s Web site is very helpful and informative especially the section on visa denials.

The next time a Tico thinks about getting a United States visa, he or she should go to the Web sites above to help them put their paperwork together proving they have strong ties to Costa Rica and reflecting they have no intention of staying in the United States.  The problem is, many Ticos believe the United States is the land of opportunity and have every intention to stay there if they get a visa and will abandon everything here to do so.

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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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 74

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Case against Rodríguez
still active, Dall'Anese says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's chief prosecutor took the unusual step Friday of announcing that a case against Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría had not expired.

Rodríguez, 67, is the former president who has been involved in a major corruption scandal stemming from the purchase of cellular telephone lines by the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad, known as ICE.

Rodríguez has been under investigation since at least Oct. 8, 2004, when he had to give up his job as secretary general of the Organization of American States. The former president was held for months in La Reforma prison in preventative detention even though he had returned home voluntarily to answer the allegations.

Rodríguez even has a book out on his ordeal.

Some local newspapers speculated that the case has expired because there has been little action for two years. That is not correct, said Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz, the fiscal general or chief prosecutor.

Without referring to Rodríguez by name, Dall'Anese said that the  Fiscalía de Delitos Económicos, Tributarios y Corrupción continues to investigate the case and that the Juzgado Penal del Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José ruled last week that there was no term for this phase of the investigation. The statement was released by the Poder Judicial press office.

A federal grand jury in Miami, Florida, has indicted a former Alcatel CIT executive on charges related to making corrupt payments to Costa Rican officials in order to obtain the mobile telephone contract from the state-owned telecommunications authority, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Department of Justice reported in January.

Alcatel was awarded a mobile telephone contract in August 2001, which was valued at $149 million. According to the indictment, Christian Sapsizian, authorized one of Alcatel’s Costa Rican consulting firms to funnel the payments to the ICE official. Sapsizian, a French citizen, is charged with conspiring to launder money for allegedly causing Alcatel CIT to wire $14 million in “commission” payments to the consultant, according to the Justice Department.

Investigations in Costa Rica have revealed that the member of the ICE board of directors who dealt with Sapsizian was José Antonio Lobo. Lobo has said that he gave some of the Alcatel money to then-president Rodríguez and also transferred some to a company controlled by Rodríguez and his wife in the United States.

Our reader's opinion

Preventative detention
threatens retirement years

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Friday's article regarding the proposal to lengthen the time spent by inmates in preventative detention and the deadline for prosecution was chilling. It rubbed all my North American sensibilities the wrong way entirely.

In the U.S.A. we are born and raised with the right to be innocent until proven guilty. We have the right to a fair and speedy trial. If law enforcement officers and officials fail to collect and safeguard evidence in a timely and thorough manner, that failure is noted and the outcomes of any legal proceedings are affected accordingly. It has become common knowledge that in most cases, evidence isn't even collected at the scene of a crime in Costa Rica, let alone safeguarded and evaluated in a modern and professional manner.
This draconian proposal is not only grossly unfair and cruel to those detained, it places still more burden upon both the prison and judicial systems in this country. Both are in dire need of modernization and bureaucratic streamlining. They're not equipped to deal with anything more. The escalating crime can and should be addressed in a more pragmatic and efficient manner. It seems that the time has come for Costa Rica to seek foreign expertise in its search for solutions to crime.

Though I have never committed a crime, nor do I intend to, this proposal frightens me. What if I should happen to inadvertently be in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus become a suspect ? It sounds likely that I would spend the remainder of my retirement years as an inmate with little hope  of justice being served. This doesn't fit into the definition of democracy for me.
Pam Ellsworth
Nosara, Guanacaste

We had the wrong flowering tree

A photo caption Thursday incorrectly identified the type of tree that was raining blossoms on the paths of Parque Morazón.

The trees are jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and not roble de Sabana. The jacaranda produces a lavender blossom not to be confused with the pink blossoms of the Roble. Readers noted the error.

Have you seen these stories?

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Costa Rica
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Tex Mex is for sale
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 74

An analysis on the news
Arias decision on referendum takes politicians off the hook

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

What a clever move.

That was the essence of a number of comments after President Óscar Arias Sánchez said he would order a referendum on the free trade treaty.

In one stroke, Arias put the burden of deciding on the treaty in the hands of the citizenry. He also stole the thunder from the anti-treaty forces. And he ducked the consequences of treaty ratification.

In addition, Arias and his advisers will put a 90-day deadline on the public vote. If anti-treaty opponents had their way, they would take nine months to gather signatures to force a referendum and perhaps stall long enough so that the proposed treaty would become void.

Arias also is taking the battle into an area where he maintains an advantage. His Partido Liberación Nacional has a strong network designed to turn out the vote. And Arias is a persuasive speaker.

The referendum law said that government institutions cannot use resources to support or oppose a referendum. That area is not clearly defined because the law is new. The measure only became effective a year ago.

The law also prohibits participation by foreign individuals or companies in the campaign for or against the referendum question. Left unclear is if a Costa Rican corporation that is a subsidiary of a foreign firm can donate to the campaign.

The referendum law established a limit of 20 base salaries as the amount that any entity can donate to a referendum campaign. A base salary is a method used in Costa Rica because the value of the colon keeps changing.  The individual limit would seem to be about $7,500 per person, according to the law or about 4 million colons.

Anti-treaty organizations already are talking about fraud when they consider the referendum. Public opinion polls have shown that about 65 percent of Costa Ricans favor the treaty. But any poll on the treaty is really asking individuals a question on which they have very little background to formulate a response. Most have never read the treaty. Even reporters who have are confused by the detail and the many references to sources outside the agreement.
The backers of a positive referendum vote probably will profit from the strong publicity campaign that has been waged thus far in support of the agreement. The stress has been on jobs and development.

Opponents of the treaty will have to present a well-defined option. So far they have talked about alternatives in abstract terms. They have talked about development with a Costa Rican emphasis without saying exactly what that is.

Meanwhile, the many laws that implement the free trade pact will continue to go forward in the Asamblea Legislative where treaty supporters maintain a 38 to 19 edge. Opponents cannot seek referendums on these measures because the law restricted the country to one such public vote a calendar year.

The passage of the dozen implementing laws will have much the same effect as passage of the free trade treaty.

Arias had the option of going to court to seek a ruling to throw out the decision Thursday by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones to permit opponents to gather signatures to seek a referendum. But such challenges would take months and could fail.

The Asamblea Legislativa is expected to approve the request by Arias to seek a referendum. Under the law some 5 percent or about 130,000 signatures from voters or an executive branch or legislative branch initiative is sufficient to call a referendum.

The election tribunal will be in charge of the voting locations, the staff there and the final counts. Citizens will vote either yes or no.

Still unclear is how big a turnout is needed to have a valid referendum. They law says 30 percent is needed unless the matter is one that requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature. Then 40 percent turnout is required to have a valid referendum. In any case, all votes, including voids and blank ballots are counted to determine the turnout percentage.

The treaty is believed to require the two-thirds legislative vote. If the referendum is passed, the measure is immediately sent to the La Gaceta official newspaper for publication. The legislature would not have to cast a vote on the agreement.  So lawmakers are off the hook as well as Arias.

You can have your chocolate cake and remain righteous, too
La carne es debil.

“The flesh is weak.” This dicho, of course, can have many connotations, and it’s the second half of the English expression the begins, “The mind is willing. . . ” This part is usually implied when the dicho is used.

I’m reminded of a dear friend who is struggling to give up cigarette smoking. He has tried many times to stop, but he has always gone back. Once he quit for a whole month, but then he was with some friends one evening who were smoking, and he gave in to the temptation. Unfortunately, it apparently just takes one cigarette to get him started again even after a month’s hiatus.

Last year this friend started experiencing severe leg pain and was subsequently diagnosed with serious blockages due to plaque buildup in veins in both legs. A lifetime of smoking has undoubtedly hastened the onset of this dangerous vascular disease. Wednesday, the day after we returned to Indiana from Costa Rica, we took him to the hospital for surgery to install two stents in each leg in order to relieve this condition. Now he is faced with the absolute necessity of quitting smoking. It has literally become a matter of life and death. It is too bad that my friend had to reach this point before he realized just how truly bad smoking was for his health.

Clearly la carne or “the flesh” sometimes has to be protected from its own wants and desires, as in my friend’s case. His body’s physical addiction to cigarettes is a threat to the very “flesh” that craves them. I do hope he can exert enough will power to overcome this dependence.  He’s planning soon to build his dream house in Costa Rica, after all, and I’d like to see him live long enough to fully enjoy it.
I was reminded of today’s dicho in an e-mail message from another friend who is going to be spending a week in Palm Springs, California, without the company of his significant other. I wonder if he was trying to communicate to me something a bit subtler in nature than his itinerary. Sometimes, you know, the mind is just about as weak as the flesh, and in those cases people can get themselves into some real trouble. I hope this fellow 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

will exercise some prudence in his behavior.

This dicho puts me in mind of a refrán, which is similar to a dicho but more like what we would call an “adage” in English. Anyway, the refrán I’m thinking of is Todo lo que me gusta, es illegal, immoral o me engorda. Which is to say, “Everything I like is either illegal, immoral, or makes me fat.”

But, succumbing to temptation is not always the great sin it’s cracked up to be, in my view. Eating that big piece of chocolate cake in the middle of the night, from time to time having one too many zarpes, peering libidinously among the pages of Playboy Magazine, or even the occasional tryst are not lapses likely to relegate one to the pits of perdition in perpetuity.

Such transgressions are part of the stuff that makes us human. It seems to me that it’s the things we indulge in that are likely to hurt others as well as ourselves that present us with the real moral dilemmas of this life.

It bears remembering what Mae West — as wise a woman in the ways of the world as ever walked the planet — once said: “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.”

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A.M. Costa Rica
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Real estate
About us
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 74

Casino owner dies in early morning head-on crash with truck
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Popular casino owner Graeme Doughty, 41, died early Friday when his four-wheel-drive vehicle collided head on with a truck in Coronado.

Doughty was one of the principals in the Casino Paradiso Costa Rica in the Clarion Hotel Amón Plaza in Barrio Amón, San José. He was a British citizen.

The funeral is expected to be today but details were
unavailable. He is survived by a wife and a baby.

The casino remains open frequently to 4 a.m., so for Doughty to be on the road headed home at 5 a.m. when the crash happened was not unusual.

His vehicle was heavily damaged and came to rest on its side.

Rports from the scene said that the truck driver said that the Doughty vehicle strayed over the center line.

Immigration police make a big haul of legal foreigners at Hotel Del Rey
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police and municipal officers raided the Hotel Del Rey again Friday and carried off all the foreign women who could fit in a bus.

They said later that 75 women had been detained and that five were in the country illegally. Most of those detained were released Saturday.

Many of the women taken to detention had valid cédulas or residency papers. The police were believed to be responding to a Channel 6 Repretel new stories that aired during the week that said many female prostitutes obtained residency  by means of marriages of convenience. The TV
reporters used a hidden camera to obtain comments from a man who said he was a lawyer who set up such unions.

The immigration officers did not seek identification from men in the popular nightspot. Drug-sniffing dogs also were brought to the scene.

The Del Rey is a popular place for North American men to meet women who may be prostitutes. However, the hotel also operates a casino on the ground floor where bars also are located.

The Del Rey employees are meticulous in checking the identification of every woman who enters the premises. they are less so with men.

Ecuadorian voters appear to strongly support referendum proposed by Correa
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Exit polls in Ecuador indicate voters have overwhelmingly approved President Rafael Correa's proposal to establish an assembly to rewrite the country's constitution.

The Cedatos-Gallup poll says 78 percent of voters supported the referendum that Correa says will help end government corruption and inefficiency.

However, critics accuse the leftist president of trying to
centralize power around himself by stripping authority from the country's unpopular congress. Correa's plans to redefine the government are similar to what his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has done in his country.

Correa, who became president in January, had threatened to resign if the proposal was not approved.

Earlier this year, the nation's electoral court fired 57 opposition lawmakers who attempted to block the referendum

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, April 16, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 74

Naranjo, Natalie Bernold
are 2007 surf champions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Diego Naranjo of Jacó took the men's title, and  Natalie Bernold of  Villarreal de Santa Cruz took the women's title as the 2007 Circuito Nacional de Surf finished Sunday.

Naranjo earned 4,110 points in the eight surf encounters throughout the season. Jason Torres of Garabito entered the last weekend of the surf competitions as the point leader with  3,077. But he was eliminated in the semifinals this weekend. Torres finished second in the overall rankings.

Ms. Bernold, however, entered the weekend in first place in the women's division. She is also the junior category champion. She is a high school student.

Some 155 persons participated in the 13 categories of the Surf event.

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