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These stories were published Thursday, April 24, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 80
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Nicaragua emerges as possible expat alternative
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The growing disquiet among foreign residents of Costa Rica with the economic, political and social climate is threatening to provoke an exodus to other tropical havens. In fact, some have already left.

The complaints about the rising cost of living, increased street crime and, in particular, the politics of the Brothers investment firm are numerous. A.M. Costa Rica has received a number of letters criticizing Costa Rica and its government.

Emerging as a popular alternative is Nicaragua. A significant number of former residents of Costa Rica have already moved there. There is also an existing ex-pat community there. The community as a whole, although smaller than that of Costa Rica, seems to be thriving. In general, residents are great proponents of life in Nicaragua.

The majority of ex-pats are concentrated around the tourist centers of the country, such as Granada. However, members of the ex-pat community say there are foreigners over much of the country. There are also a significant number of ex-pats in the country’s capital, Managua.

Nicaraguan residency can be obtained by either investing in the country or through retiree status. 

According to the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism, there is a special law in place which provides special tax benefits for tourism investment. Residency comes along with this. Some operations such as hotels and food and drinks services require a minimum investment. 

There are different requirements for businesses in and outside of Managua. Generally, the minimum investments required are higher in Managua, classed as the urban zone (Check http://www.intur.gob.ni/old/index.html for details).

The immigration law has a migration category for rentistas and pensionados. To qualify in this category, an individual must provide proof of a minimum income of $400 per month. This figure could change. A similar retista figure in Costa Rica is $1,000 a month.

Several documents are required for the processing of residency. An individual must present a birth certificate, a health certificate and a police check certificate.

"I found residency here real easy," said Keith Knight, who moved to Nicaragua from Costa Rica last year. "Plus cooperation of local agencies in 
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
The old cathedral stands tall to command the sky over Granada’s Parque Central.

opening and operating a business. It’s like Nicaragua really encourages outside investment as a means of employing people and bettering the country’s situation."

Knight got his residency through a business he started in Granada. He said he knows many others who obtained their residency through retiree status. They also reported the process to be smooth, he said.

Knight said there are some costs involved in the processing of the residency. But he said there are lawyers who will do the "legwork" for reasonable fees.

Living expenses are lower in Nicaragua than in Costa Rica. Ex-pats there say rent and utilities are substantially lower. However, James Varel, 25, who came from Sacramento, Calif., said costs in Nicaragua are rising. He helps operate his parents’ restaurant and hostel businesses in central Managua.

Leisure expenses are cheaper in Nicaragua, too. Among them, eating out, alcohol, public transportation and internal travel expeditions are all largely lower in cost. One amenity which seems on a par with Costa Rican rates is the cost of Internet facilities at cafés.

There is an ex-pat run discussion group on the Internet dedicated to life in Nicaragua. More information can be obtained there. http://groups.yahoo.com/
group/NicaraguaLiving

Downtown bar owner finds peace in Granada
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Keith Knight had enough of Costa Rica. Losing money in an investment, rising street crime, erratic politics and the growing expense of life here persuaded him it was time to go.

A former bar owner and long-time resident of Costa Rica, he grew tired of the country’s changes and was searching for something else.

He sold his former downtown bar, Sharkey’s, where the New York Bar now sits on Calle 9 at Avenida 1. But he didn’t want to go back to the United States to, as he puts it, play grandfather.

Around the time when Knight, originally from California, was winding his life up in Costa Rica, he visited Granada, Nicaragua. He stayed awhile, rented a house for a short time and fell in love with the town. He already had a pleasant experience there several years earlier.

Knight can now be found in the sleepy streets of Granada running a new bar he opened shortly after his arrival.  The bar is named after his old one in San José: Sharkey’s.

Sharkey’s, a placid bar, epitomizes all that is true of Granada: charming, relaxing and, generally, very nice to visit. The bar’s décor follows a rugged, native-type theme, with chair frames bearing seating made from old coffee 

bags. The roofs are high, and the architectural lines follow the Spanish colonial style typical of Granada. 

The bar’s ambience contributes as much as its décor to Sharkeys’ attractiveness, night or day. The crowd is usually mixed, possibly illustrating Granada’s personality, not yet overrun by commercialism or tourism. The colorful blend of young backpackers, ex-pats of various descriptions, general tourists and local Nicaraguans is a pleasant environment.

And Knight, the owner, is equally as pleasant. An artist with a wandering, pensive demeanor, his conversation is both interesting and refreshing. He is almost always around, happily conversing with the bar’s crowd. And his young dog Zoom is usually not too far behind. She, too, likes to socialize. Her buoyant playfulness and beautiful fur and eyes threaten to seduce even the most anti-dog person.

But don’t look for Sharkey’s too much longer: Knight is about to change the name to Zoom’s, after his dog.

Sharkey’s (Zoom’s) isn’t difficult to find. From Parque Central head down the street (Calle La Calzada) to the immediate left of the old cathedral. Walk three blocks down that street past the Central youth hostel and it can be found on the following left corner.

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Rioters block Inter-American highway with fires
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Stone-throwing mobs injured two policemen and blocked the Inter-American highway near Puntarenas Wednesday in a violent demonstration against government policies.

The rioters, who described themselves as fishermen and sympathizers with fisherman, were protesting increases in the price of gasoline sold to fishermen for their boats and for fishing prohibitions placed on the Isle de Coco, which is now a protected location.

Rioters set fires that blocked the highway and also ignited small forest fires in nearby woods.

Members of the Fuerza Pública used tear gas to disburse the crowd of about 400 persons. The crowd included youngsters, woman, some of whom were obviously pregnant.

Police arrested at least 22 persons, four of them minors, in both a morning and an afternoon riot. The two injured policemen were treated at nearby Hospital Monseñor Sanabria.

The possibility remains of more riots today.

Traffic halted on the Inter-American highway in a place called Chomes that is outside the city of Puntarenas but directly on the highway.

The rioting followed lesser protests Tuesday. Specifically, the fishermen and supporters are 

protesting the formula the government uses to calculate the price of fuel sold for marine purposes. In addition, the 12-kilometer no-fishing zone around the ecologically rich Isla de Coco upsets the fishermen because the area is full of fish.

As the protest developed, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública sent the Unidad de Intervención Policial tactical squad to reinforce regular officers from the  Puntarenas area.

Those who were arrested face charges of blocking a public right-of-way or a more serious charge of obstructing public services. The ministry said in a statement Wednesday night that officials expected that the number of arrests would increase and that additional charges might be filed stemming from the igniting of fires.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos fire brigade extinguished the blazes.

Police said that some of those arrested were carrying bottles containing gasoline but there was no evidence of firebombing, and officials believed that the gasoline was used merely to start fires.

The injured policemen are Marco Santamaría, who suffered a broken clavicle, and Carlos Largaespada, who suffered burns.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of security ordered the police to maintain free transit on the vital highway.

Murder for body parts alleged in Ciudad Juarez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUAREZ, México — In this border city just across the Río Grande from El Paso, Texas, police have detained two men whom they accuse of involvement in at least three murders of young women. 

Police say the men were harvesting organs from the women for use in medical transplants. However, citizens groups remain skeptical about what they regard as a bizarre theory. 

In one of the stranger twists in the story of the murdered women of Juarez, authorities in the state of Chihuahua say they have detained two men who were involved in not only rape and murder, but organ trafficking. They have not provided details of the evidence they have to support such charges, but Chihuahua State Prosecutor Jesus Silva said federal authorities are also involved in the investigation. 

He says this crime involved a trafficking operation which falls under the jurisdiction of federal authorities, who, he says, are cooperating in the investigation. 

The Mexican federal government has remained on the sidelines for the past 10 years as more than 300 women have been killed in Juarez. Experts believe more than 80 of the murders could have been the work of one or more serial killers. State authorities have arrested various men over the years and declared the cases closed, but the killings have continued. 

Victims' families and human rights activists have accused local police of incompetence and demanded more federal involvement. 

The two men in custody are Angel Vazquez, a 29-year-old street vendor who police say has provided information about the killings, and 39-year-old ironworker Hernaldo Valles Contreras, who they suspect of links to organized crime. But local activists note that police arrested two other men over a year ago for the same killings mentioned in this latest investigation. 

An attorney representing the men, Francisco 

Hernandez, says the information provided by Vasquez was obtained through coercion. He says most of the information in this investigation is unreliable because it has come from a man who has been tortured by police while he was in custody. 

Many people in Juarez remain skeptical about the organ-trafficking allegations. There has never been a proven case of organ harvesting in Mexico in spite of widespread rumors of such activity. There have even been cases of mobs in rural areas lynching men suspected of kidnapping people for their organs. Medical experts, however, say harvesting organs requires technology and facilities that are not readily available in the areas where such crimes have allegedly been carried out. 

Juarez womens' activists say the killing spree in their city has continued because of a climate of impunity. They say killers may be coming to the border city simply because they know they can kill there without much fear of being caught and punished.

Torture labeled 
a prison problem

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A survey of Mexican government doctors reveals that torture is still common in the country's jails, although probably less frequent than five years ago. A U.S. human rights group conducted the survey at the request of the Mexican government. 

Physicians for Human Rights in Boston says torture and ill treatment of detainees continue to be pervasive in Mexico. It bases its assessment on anonymous surveys of 184 national and state government forensic doctors, part of whose job is to evaluate detainees when they are first held and when they are released. 

Physicians for Human Rights researcher, Dr. Vincent Iacopino, says about half of the doctors reported that torture is a serious problem for detainees in Mexico. 


 
 
Astronaut to lead
celebrity group

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Franklin Chang Diaz, the U.S. astronaut, will be the most traveled member of a group of celebrities who will sign a manifesto against child labor Friday morning.

The event will be in the Centro Nacional de la Cultura in Barrio Amon and is sponsored by the International Labor Organization which is campaigning against child labor.

The group said that 113,000 young Costa Ricans work under conditions that represent illegal child labor.

Other personalities who will sign the document include former presidents, writers, actors, musicians, sports figures, Archbishop Hugo Barrantes and other politicians.

SARS warning upsets
Canadian officials

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A warning by the World Health Organization that travelers should avoid Toronto because of an outbreak of a deadly virus sent Canadians into a flurry of damage control. Canadian officials dismissed the travel advisory and challenged the health alert. 

Canadian health officials and politicians reacted angrily to Wednesday's announcement by the World Health Organization that travel to Toronto was not safe because of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak here. 

Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer of health, said it was important to get out the true facts of the situation. "It is serious and it is contained, largely in hospitals. Which is, frankly, where it belongs. So we don't have widespread community spread."

Health officials from both Canada and the United States insisted the WHO warning about severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto was not supported by the medical facts. 

Dr. Clifford McDonald of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, visiting Toronto as a SARS advisor, said the CDC has alerted people to Toronto's outbreak, but they have not issued a travel warning. 

Toronto has done an exemplary job at preventing a community-wide outbreak, he said. Unlike other parts of the world, Toronto's infections have been limited to a small number of hospitals, households and specific community settings. 

Dr. Paul Gulley of the government agency Health Canada, said he is sending the WHO a formal letter of protest. 

Despite these efforts, Toronto's tourism industry expects the bad news to deliver another blow to the declines they have seen since the SARS virus first arrived here last month. Making matters worse, industry and government officials admit there is nothing they can do to change the WHO's message until the SARS crisis passes. 

So far 16 people have been confirmed dead of SARS in Toronto.

Chavez and Uribe
meet amid tension

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have met here for talks aimed at smoothing over relations strained by a dispute concerning border security.

President Uribe flew here for Wednesday's talks, which followed weeks of tension fueled by accusations that Venezuela harbors Colombian leftist rebels. Earlier this week, Colombian Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio said in published remarks that Venezuela has become a refuge for what he called "Colombian criminals" trying to topple Uribe's government.

President Chavez denies his government has ever aided Colombian guerrillas or knowingly allowed them to slip into Venezuelan territory.

Colombia also has demanded information about reports that Venezuelan military aircraft bombed a Colombian frontier hamlet in March in support of leftist rebels battling rightist paramilitaries. Venezuela denies those reports.

Mudslide buries
Guatemalan homes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CHICHICASTE, Guatemala —  Authorities say a mudslide has buried several homes here in the eastern province of San Marcos, leaving at least seven people dead and 20 others missing.  Officials say the trouble happened at around dawn Wednesday as a mountain towering over the village collapsed. 

Authorities declared a state of emergency for the region as rescue workers searched for victims. Their efforts were hampered by the threat of more mudslides.  Authorities say that because of flooding several months ago, the region had been declared a high-risk area.

Rebel murder suspect
to go to U.S. for trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Supreme Court has approved the extradition of a leftist rebel wanted in the United States for the 1999 murders of three American Indian activists. 

Authorities say the court ruled Wednesday in the case of Nelson Vargas Rueda, a member of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Vargas would be the first member of the group known as FARC to be extradited from Colombia to face charges in the United States. 

The three Americans, Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahee'Enae Gay, were kidnapped in February 1999 as they worked with Indians in northeastern Colombia.  Days later, their bodies were found across the border in Venezuela. Vargas was one of several rebels indicted last year for killing the activists. 

The United States considers the FARC and other outlawed Colombian groups as terrorists. 

Technical mission
studies voting method

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

ASUNCION, Paraguay —  A technical monitoring mission from the Organization of American States  began operations here this week, ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections. 

The purpose of the monitoring mission is to examine how electronic voting is being implemented in Paraguay, and review the electoral process and the specially-designed voting technology. The technical team includes computer and election technology experts, as well as managers of computer systems for election agencies in Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. 

Bus bandit suspect
grabbed in Pavas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators raided three homes early Wednesday and finally arrested a man they said was half of a pair that has held up buses on the Pavas route.

Investigators identified the man by the last names of Guillen Montero, age 25, and said they still were looking for a second person. Police said they had identified the second man.

The raids took place in Pavas about 6 a.m. by agents of the División de Asaltos of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The man faces allegations that he helped hold up at least 10 buses since December. Not only did robbers take the bus fares but they also divested passengers of wallets, jewelry and other valuables. The robbers used ski masks and guns.

The robberies frequently happened in the late hours of the evening when there were few persons on the bus.

Escazú ATM break-in
nets thieves no money

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police said they found two men trying to break into an automatic teller machine in San Rafael de Escazú about 4 a.m. Wednesday.

Fuerza Pública officers said the machine was adjacent to the swimming pool store Aquarium. Officers managed to arrest one man, identified by the surnames of Salazar Delgado. 

The machine suffered damage as did the door of the protective structure surrounding it but no money was taken, police said.
 
 
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U.S. treasury secretary praises Brazil's leftist Lula
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil's dynamic new leadership not only presents the United States with an opportunity for strengthening relations, but also indicates that Brazil will be a partner in pursuing economic growth in the Western Hemisphere, says U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow.

In remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday to the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo, Snow explained that his trip to Brazil was based on the Bush administration's belief that the United States can improve its already close ties with Brazil.

"I am here because we see a moment of real opportunity for strengthening relations with a country of vital importance to the U.S.," Snow said.

Beyond bolstering ties, Snow said that the United States and Brazil share a responsibility for the economic progress of the hemisphere. He said that the Bush administration looks forward to working with the administration of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to drive economic growth in the region and raise living standards for millions of people.

Lula da Silva is Brazil’s first leftist president in 40 years. He has been a critic of a hemispheric free trade area.

Snow said that Lula and his economic team have already demonstrated "extraordinary leadership" in setting an economic course for Brazil. The treasury secretary noted that Brazil's economic policy priorities are the mutually reinforcing goals of growth and poverty reduction. 

He added that the Lula administration's efforts to establish a stable economic framework are already bearing fruit, as reflected in the strengthening of the real (the Brazilian currency), an improvement in Brazil's credit-risk rating, and lower inflation.

Snow applauded the Lula administration for working to build on this new stability by pursuing reforms that will serve as the building blocks for future growth. Snow also outlined Brazil's efforts against hunger and in the promotion of property ownership.

He pointed out that just as Brazil has developed its own strategy for growth, the United States is also pursuing a plan for growth and would like to work with Brazil as it pursues a growth agenda.

Snow indicated that the Treasury Department will explore ways to foster productive discussions aimed at accelerating growth in both countries prior to the summit between Presidents Bush and Lula later this year.

Increased economic growth in the United States and Brazil should serve to raise overall growth in the hemisphere, but Brazil and the United States — as co-chair nations of the final stages of Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations — also have the responsibility to bring the benefits of free trade to all nations in the region, Snow said.

The U.S. goal in treaty talks is comprehensive trade liberalization, Snow said. He noted that all sectors would be open to negotiation and that the United States has offered to eliminate its import duties on the vast majority of industrial and agricultural products from the Western Hemisphere, immediately upon entry into force of the trade treaty.

Snow said that the benefits accrued by all three North American Free Trade Agreement economies is encouraging, and augurs well for the hemisphere. These are México, the United States and Canada.

On trade matters, social issues, and in other areas, "the United States is resolved to work in partnership with our Brazilian friends in the interest of both countries and the region as a whole," he concluded.

Exit permits will now be handled by computers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will rely on computers and an individual exit permit to eliminate wrongdoing at the airports starting today.

That was the essence of an announcement Wednesday by Randall Quirós, vice minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Still, the permit system will remain at the airport in the hands of the Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago. This is the same entity that handled the sticky-backed revenue stamps that officials said caused them so many headaches. They claimed that unofficial vendors at the entrances to the airports recycled and duplicated the stamps.

The new system does not rely on stamps but on computer-generated documents complete with barcodes and detailed identification information about each air traveler.

Officials did not adopt the system used in many countries of simply having the travel agencies and airlines collect the tax at the time air tickets were sold. The new system at the airport will continue to generate paperwork and a daily flow of cash as travelers pay for their exit permits, called "landings."

At the same time, the price of the exit permit increases to $26 from $17 for foreigners. Exit permits for Costa Rican citizens also are supposed to be $26 at the end of one year. But until then 

citizens will pay $43. This is a special tax to generate more money for the central government.

The exit permits are in force at Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela, Daniel Oduber Airport west of Liberia and at Tobías Bolaños Airport in Pavas where international flights are possible. Land travelers and cruise ship passengers do not pay the exit tax.

Certain other air travelers do not pay the exit tax, including air crews, diplomats, those being expelled from the country and those traveling as indigents or convicts.

Curiously, the tax is expressed in dollars but may be paid in colons at the continually changing daily rate.

Only $1 of the tax is collected for airport repairs, but the central government and the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil split the rest. For the next 10 years, the Canton de Alajuela gets $1 back from the central government to pay for sewers and water lines, according to the general rules setting up the tax.

Anyone who happens to have unused exit stamps from the previous system has three months to turn them in to Tributación Directa adjacent to the courts in downtown San José. 

Officials there have a form for reimbursement, but they also will require the receipt issued when the stamps were purchased, they said.


 
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