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These stories were published Monday, May 9, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 90
Jo Stuart
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Water, sewers, environment are factors to consider
Boom in beach condos could cause oversupply
By Garland M. Baker 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Get ready for Costa Ricaâs condominium explosion.  It is happening right now all over the country.

Beehive condos are popping up everywhere.  The San José area, Escazú and Santa Ana are perfect examples.  New condos are growing out of the ground fast. 

First, the hot trend was malls.  The last five years brought three new malls and complete renovations to two older ones.  There is even one more in the development stage. The "biggest and baddest" mall is yet to come south of The Forum in Santa Ana.  The ground is prepared and ready to go.  However, construction recently was suspended. 

The new trend is condos and expensive ones at that, especially the ones that overlook the ocean. 

What is it about water that will entice a buyer to pay exorbitant amounts of money to look at it from a picture window?

Whatever it is, it works.  Tico as well as North American developers believe they have found a gold mine in Costa Rica.  The idea is simple: build has many condominiums as possible, and buyers will flock to the country to buy them.  This economic premise probably originates from the hypothesis "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." One project envisions 5,000 condos.

Some say real estate demand is far greater than the current supply, especially the demand for condominium projects.  This may be true today.  However, Costa Rica is a copycat society.  Historically, this copycat mentality has killed even the best ideas, driven them into the ground with overkill.

This country suffers from a serious problem.  It does not know how to plan.  Controlled development is a science, one that is not practiced here. Overly rapid, inadequately controlled development poses a serious threat to Costa Ricaâs unique quality of life.

Costa Rica does not have enough water, sewage disposal systems, or road infrastructure to support all the condominium projects in the works or planned over the next five years.

Buyers need to be careful, very careful.  Investing in a vacation home in Costa Rica may be a risky venture.  Consider just a few of the concerns that may turn the countryâs current "skyrocketing" real estate economy into a catastrophe.

Here is a short list to consider when thinking about buying property in Costa Rica: 

1.) The countryâs lack of an adequate water supply. 

2.) Adequate sewage systems are lacking. 

3.) Good roads are in short supply. Most roads in Costa Rica, especially in the outlying regions, are horrible. 

4.) Increased tensions in Nicaragua. The revolution in Nicaragua in the 1980s stifled Costa Ricaâs growth for more than 10 years. 

The condo explosion

5.) Costa Ricaâs immigration policies are getting stricter every year. 

6.) Costa Ricaâs new tax law is currently in the legislature and contains a new "world tax" that could mean any money brought into the country (like pensions) could be taxed as the money arrives. 

7.) The worldwide increasing interest rates. 

8.) The weakening U.S. dollar. 

And the list goes on . . . .

Now the most important, the one that should be on top of the list:  Overbuilding.  What good is having a condo in Costa Rica if the market is so oversaturated with condominiums in five years the market collapses due to oversupply.

Financial systems that cater heavily to speculative "hot money" flows are accidents waiting to happen.  This is exactly the case with Costa Rica.  "Hot money" is flowing into the country fueling property speculation.   In every case when speculative flows reverse, markets immediately falter with lack of liquidity and collapse.

North American buyers frequently approach Costa Ricaâs real estate market uncritically with little knowledge of the intricacies. They value properties by First World standards.

Optimistic salesmen encourage the belief that quick profits are certain.

Those who invest intelligently will ask the right questions and look for projects that have considered the impact on the environment. In the long run such investments will be worth more.

Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at  Copyright 2005, use without permission prohibited.


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U.S. citizen Chang draws
concern from union boss

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Franklin Chang Díaz, the astronaut, has been away from Costa Rica too long and has U.S. citizenship, Albino Vargas notes.

For that reason the union leader was not particularly pleased that Chang will be on a panel to evaluate the text of the free trade treaty with the United States.

President Abel Pacheco confirmed Thursday that he asked Chang to serve on the panel, and the response from Vargas was predictable.

Chang, 55, is probably the top Costa Rican celebrity. He was born in San José, but finished high school in Connecticut  in 1968, and he has spent most of his adult life in the United States. He has made seven flights and logged 1,6501 hours in space.

Vargas heads the Asociación Nacional y Empleados Públicos y Privados. Chang heads NASAâs Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

Therefore, Pacheco is asking a U.S. government employee to advise him on what he should do with a trade treaty with the United States.

Pacheco said two weeks ago that he would empanel a group to advise him on whether he should send the text of the free trade treaty to the Asamblea Legislativa for possible ratification. The move was seen as a stalling tactic. Some legislators noted that it was their job to do what Pacheco wants Chang and the panel to do.

Over the weekend on his weekly radio and television address Pacheco praised social dialogue as a sign of a mature democracy. Here there is no need to go to the streets to be heard, respected and counted, he said.

The Costa Rican way is to arrive peacefully at agreements over the great diversity of pending matters, he said.

Vargas has threatened a national strike if the free trade agreement is sent to the legislature. He was instrumental in a strike last year that blocked the roads for a week.

Pacheco blamed voices "with a certain foreign accent" calling people to violence and civil disobedience. The president said that important issues will be decided over a base of social and political consensus. At least one labor organizer who has been here in the last year is from Cuba.

Pacheco, himself, is off to the United States today. He has a meeting in Cincinnati Tuesday and then meetings with congressmen, senators and business leaders in Washington, D.C.

Pacheco and other Central American heads of state meet with U.S. President George Bush Thursday.

Horse patrols to guard
trails in Monteverde

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monteverde will get a special horse patrol to reinforce law enforcement there.

That was announced by Walter Navarro Romero, director of the Fuerza Pública. He visited the community last week.

The special unit will contain four horses at first, and these will be used by officers to patrol the trails that attract thousands of foreign visitors. The horse patrols are supposed to begin this week.

In addition, Navarro and Juan José Andrade, the regional director of the police agency, said that the number of officers assigned to Monteverde would be doubled to 12.

Two patrol cars and two motorcycles will be added to the police inventory there.

Monteverde was the scene of a bloody bank takeover March 8 and 9 in nearby Santa Elena de Monteverde. Police conduct came under analysis after the incident that left seven dead.

In addition, some residents raised the question of why police had not been more aggressive in  seeking out a band of robbers before they tried to rob the bank. The gang had been in the area for some weeks and are believed to have lived in the woods.

Swimming hole claims
four lives in Orotina

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three members of a San José family and a boyfriend died together in an apparent chain drowning near the community of Orotina Saturday. This was the most usual incident in a weekend punctuated by vehicle deaths and murders.

The dead are Manuel Eduarte, 49, his daughters Nancy, 12, and Lucy, 21, plus the boyfriend of Lucy, Óscar Méndez, 21, also of Moravia, San José. There were no witnesses to the deaths, but one member of the family must have gotten into trouble at a swimming area known as El Ojoche and the others tried to help.

The family was in the area to work on some recently purchased land. The familyâs mother, another daughter and a son did not go swimming Saturday.

In the southwestern community of Ciudad Neily police got a call about 8 p.m. Friday night that a woman had been stabbed in a bar. The woman, Meilyn Aschia Artavia, died from multiple stab wounds. Fuerza Pública officers detained a former boyfriend, identified by the last names of Araica Araica for the crime.

The stabbing took place in the bar Judimar where both individuals happened to show up Friday night. The woman had a protective order against the man because of previous violence.

In Cariari de Pococí officers detained a man with the last names of González Leiva, 35. He is being held for investigation in the machete murder of Pedro Antonio Pérez, who was slashed in the neck during an argument about 1 a.m.

On the Nicoya Peninsula officers detained three men for investigation in the death of Frank Gutiérrez Villalta, 45, who died in front of the bar Rancho Amelia in the town of Filadelfia around 1 a.m. The victim tried to stop a fight among young people and was stabbed several times.

Held were men with the last names and ages of Figueroa Sánchez, 19, Ruiz, 19 and Marín Figueroa, 18.

In addition, at least two persons died in motor vehicle accidents over the weekend and at least two more in water accidents.

Car trouble leads 
police to drug haul

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men had car trouble near the Zurquí Tunnel on the Carretera Braulio Carrillo Friday, and police who came to their aid found 68 kilos of marijuana in bags and packages inside the vehicle, they said.

The estimated 150 pounds of marijuana was not the local variety, although it did come from the direction of Limón. The marijuana was of a high quality that appeared to be from Colombia, police said.

Southeastern Costa Rica is a major marijuana producing area but the whole Caribbean coast is a transit point for illegal drugs from South America.

The men, identified by the last names of Segura Chavarría and Vásquez Porras, were held for investigation, police said.

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Destiny plays role in Costa Rica saying about tamales
El que nacio para tamaldel cielo le caerán las hojas

"If youâre born to be a tamale, the leaves will drop from the sky." It seems to me that this simple dicho has a lot to say about the complex topic of human destiny, meaning that even if youâre born to be a lowly tamale, the things you need to become that (in this case banana leaves) will come to you. 

Costa Rican tamales are different from the Mexican or Cuban varieties, and I actually think they have more in common with the Venezuelan version known as hayacas.

In Costa Rica, making tamales is a holiday tradition. In the days leading up to Christmas, custom has it that tamales are to be served with steaming cups of strong, black coffee to friends and family who drop by in the afternoon. My grandfather used to say that if the coffee did not "paint" the inside of the cup with its rich, dark lacquer it wasnât very good coffee. 

The preparation of tamales is usually a family, or sometimes even a community affair with folks getting together to prepare the ingredients and assemble the tamales for cooking. Itâs a lot of fun, and one of those wonderful old traditions that brings everyone together in congenial fellowship at the holidays.

El que nacio para tamal del cielo le caerán las hojas, sounds funny because one gets this mental picture of banana leaves cascading down from the heavens. Once, however, back when I always spent Christmas in the States, we were entertaining a lot of international students who were stuck far from home at Christmastime. 

After moving to the U.S., I had quickly transplanted the holiday tradition of tamale-making among my new family. So, that particular year we decided to include this group of students from Indiana University in the festivities. For many years we had relied on an international market in our town, called the Sahara Mart, for our supply of banana leaves. But that particular year, when we needed more leaves than ever before, the Sarhara Mart was completely sold out. 

Apparently the number of tamale makers in our area had undergone a dramatic increase. Well, you donât find too many backyard banana trees around Bloomington, Indiana, in the middle of December. So, it looked like there wouldnât be any tamales for us or our international students that year. What a disappointment! 

We had all but given up on the idea, when a young Ph.D. candidate we knew from Puerto Rico said that there were banana trees all over her old neighborhood in San Juan. Maybe her mother could collect the amount of leaves we needed and fly them up to us via Federal Express. Well, as youâve undoubtedly already guessed, thatâs exactly what she did. So, that year our banana leaves really did fall from the sky! A huge box of them arrived from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 23, in time for our tamale festival the following day.

That year we had people from Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Italy, Korea, Croatia, Venezuela, Germany, and, of course, the United States all making tamales together. The Christmas that banana leaves fell from the sky was a holiday Iâll not soon forget.

Hereâs a recipe for Costa Rican Christmas tamales that I thought you might enjoy trying next holiday season:

The masa: 

Melt 1 stick of butter in 1 cup boiling beef broth. 
Slowly add 2 1/2  cups of masa harina, stirring 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

continuously over medium heat until mixture reaches the consistency of a thick paste. 

If itâs too thin add a bit more masa harina, if it becomes too thick to stir add a little more broth. But itâs important that the masa not become too thin for molding by hand. Remove from heat, cover and set aside. 

The fillings: 

2 lbs. pork tenderloin boiled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes 

2 lbs.  boneless skinless chicken breast boiled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes 

1 cup defrosted frozen peas 

1 cup green stuffed Spanish olives 

1 cup raisins 

2 medium carrots boiled and sliced 

1/2 cup capers 

2 bell peppers cleaned, seeded, and cut into thin strips

1cup canned garbanzos 

4 hard boiled eggs sliced.

The Leaves: 

The banana leaves should be "cured" by placing them in boiling water with two tablespoons of olive oil for about 5 to 7 minutes. After the leaves have cooled, cut them into 4x6-inch rectangles

Assembling the tamales: 

Place 3 to 4 tablespoons of the reserved masa in the middle of one of the banana leaf sections. Form the masa into a rectangular brick. Into the masa press 1 cube of pork tenderloin, 1 cube of chicken breast, 3 to 4 peas, 1 olive, 3 to 4 raisins, 1 carrot slice, and 2 to 3 garbanzos. 

Garnish with a strip or two of bell pepper, a few of the capers, and a slice of boiled egg.  Wrap the tamale in two banana leaf sections, the one thatâs already on the bottom and another placed on the top and secure the package with string from left to right and top to bottom tied in the middle. 

Drop the assembled tamales into a pot of boiling water and cook over medium high heat for one hour.  Remove from the boiling water. Allow tamales to cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Yields approximately 10 to 12 tamales. ¡Disfrute! 

Rifles in rebel camp show link to Central America
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Colombian military says it has found a cache of military rifles from Nicaragua in a camp belonging to the nation's leading left-wing rebel group. The military officials say the discovery is evidence the rebels have contacts in Central America. 

The Colombian military says it found the Nicaraguan rifles in a camp belonging to the nation's leading left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

Colombian officials accuse FARC of trading drugs to arms dealers in Nicaragua for assault rifles and other weaponry. 

In a statement Thursday, Colombian Navy Capt. Jairo Peña Gómez said the weapons were found at the FARC camp along Colombia's Yurumangui River.

Peña Gómez says 18 rifles were discovered in the camp, six of which were the property of the Nicaraguan National guard.

Nicaraguan officials say the arms are assault rifles stolen from the military or left over from Nicaragua's civil war in the 1980s.

Peña Gómez said other items found in the camp included 12,000 rounds of ammunition and almost 700 grenades, as well as other explosives, communications equipment and 15 tons of food and other provisions. 

The Colombian government has been battling the FARC rebels for over 40 years with thousands killed every year on both sides of the conflict. 

The government accuses the rebels of using the highly lucrative drug trade to fund their war with the Colombian government. They are also believed to have cells in several Central American nations besides Nicaragua. 

In March, Honduras' security minister, Oscar Alvarez, said that FARC cells were active in his country. Alvarez accused the FARC of seeking more weapons and trying to destabilize the region. 

Colombia is the world's No. 1 producer of cocaine and a major supplier of heroin. 

According to the State Department's annual report on terrorism, the FARC is also suspected of infiltrating many of Colombia's neighbors including Panama and Brazil. The United States and Colombia both consider the FARC a terrorist organization.

Fort Lauderdale is site for next OAS ministers meeting
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. ÷ Preparations continue for the June 5-7 meeting of the 35th General Assembly of the Organization of American States, which will bring together the foreign ministers of the 34 member states. 

The event, to be held here, will be hosted by the United States and chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

This is the first time since 1974 that the United States is hosting a General Assembly, which is the highest decision-making forum of the Organization of American States. Atlanta was the site of the last U.S. gathering.

The organization said in a statement last week that the United States chose "Delivering the Benefits of Democracy" as the theme for the Fort Lauderdale event.

John Maisto, U.S. permanent representative to the organization, said in April 11 remarks that the United 

States chose that theme because it believed the Western Hemisphere "has entered a new democratic era." He added: "With the single exception of Castro's Cuba, elected governments are the norm. . . .  We not only agree about that, but we have enshrined our commitment to democracy in a truly groundbreaking document" called the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

That charter, adopted Sept. 11, 2001, by the OAS member states, aims to strengthen the organization's capacity to promote and defend democracy in the Western Hemisphere. 

Other topics on the agenda at Fort Lauderdale include promoting a democratic culture, advancing in the fight against illegal drugs, improving the status of indigenous peoples, strengthening the inter-American human rights protection system, combating transnational criminal youth gangs, making 2006 the "Inter-American Year of the Fight Against Corruption," and fulfilling the promise of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Former Ecuadorian President Bucaram is back in Panamá
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Panama granted former Ecuadorean President Abdala Bucaram asylum Friday, after he fled his home country following massive anti-government protests.

Bucaram was forced to flee after the removal of one of his successors, President Lucio Gutiérrez, last month.

He has sought and been granted asylum in Panama four times since the 1980s. 

Bucaram led Ecuador for six months until February 1997, before legislators declared him mentally unfit to rule. Officials also accused him of stealing more than $3 million from public funds when he left power.  He returned to Ecuador last month after a Gutiérrez-appointed Supreme Court annulled the corruption charges against him. 

However, Bucaram's return helped fuel the protests against Gutiérrez that led to his ouster. Gutiérrez is now in Brazil, where he has been granted asylum. 

Another young woman joins list of the murdered in Ciudad Juárez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUEAREZ, México ÷ Mexican authorities say one woman has been murdered and another raped in a city on the U.S. border known for hundreds of violent crimes against women for more than a decade.

Officials say a 20-year-old woman was stabbed and sexually assaulted before her body was dumped on the 

street in an industrial district. Her body was found Thursday, the same day another woman was raped, beaten and left for dead in the middle of a street.

About 350 women have been brutally murdered over a 12-year period in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, located just across the border from the southwestern U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. More than 100 of the victims were sexually assaulted.

Jo Stuart
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