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These stories were published Monday, May 23, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 100
Jo Stuart
About us
Uvita hotel owner shakes up beach community
By Susan Reines
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In four years Steve Fisk converted a vacant lot off the Interamerican highway into a hotel that lodges overflow guests on porch hammocks during the high season. He bought out the Tico neighbors next door when he couldn't stand their loud music. He convinced the church across the street to turn on the speakers later so his guests could sleep in the morning. Now he's got his eye on another property on the other side of the small Pacific coast community of Uvita. 

In short, Fisk is changing the face of Uvita, and he has done it largely by working outside of Costa Rican culture.

"I've been here four years, and I speak hardly any Spanish," he said. (He sent the Nicaraguan woman who cleans the hotel to take care of the church problem.)

There is a Canadian chef frying hamburgers in the kitchen and a DVD player with a stack of Hollywood blockbusters in the common area. The full-time office manager and bartender is a woman from Holland who speaks perfect English but only a few words of Spanish. Fisk's is the only hotel in Uvita that will exchange traveler's checks. But the success of his business hinges not only on these Gringo-geared comforts, Fisk said, but more importantly on his American business philosophy.

"Down here, you can't make a deal," the 37-year-old native of Three Rivers, Calif., said. "You negotiate something, then you come back the next day and find they want a discount. [In hotels], there's one price for Ticos and one price for Gringos. I don't do any of that. I've got a list of the prices. And that's just the price."

As Fisk's Hotel Toucan has begun to bring in about 40 guests a night on high season weekends, the neighboring locally run businesses have begun to change their services to match Fisk's.

One local cabina owner set up tiki torches like the ones that flicker outside the Toucan. Another opened a restaurant similar to the Toucan's restaurant/bar and purchased a pool table after, Fisk said, seeing the popularity of the table in the Toucan's bar.

"He wouldn't have his little pool hall up there if it weren't for me," Fisk said of the cabina owner. "He sees people playing pool here every night, he sees I'm bringing in money, so now he's got one. I don't care. I'm not going to lose any business."

To promote his hotel and Uvita as a tourist destination in general, Fisk has launched a publicity campaign unparalleled, he said, by any other business in the area. He papered the country with 1,200 posters and hundreds of thousands of fliers. He did interviews with guidebooks from all over the world. 

As a consequence, Fisk said, Uvita is starting to 

A.M. Costa Rica/Susan Reines
Bartender Nickie Verhulst and hotel owner Steve Fisk converse with guests.

receive more attention from travelers who might otherwise not have ventured into the region guidebooks often call simply "south of Dominical."

"There are more people coming through each year," he said. "Four years ago there was nothing. But 80 percent of the business here now is because of me, all the people I've brought to the area."

Fisk said the animosity he at first felt from his neighbors has declined as his business has, in his opinion, put Uvita on the tourist map. And while he has stayed largely within his own community of English-speaking customers, Fisk has made some personal inroads into the Uvita community.

He provided lodging and employment for a local youth who had family problems, for example, and he said he plans to take a week of Spanish lessons in nearby San Isidro during the upcoming low tourism season.

Fisk said he has often had strained relations with Costa Ricans in the business environment, however.

"[The chef] has been through 10 people back there, Ticos, because they see he's bringing in money, and after a few weeks they want more money," Fisk said. "They see he's bringing it in, but they don't realize that he buys the produce every other day, that the milk guy comes, the egg guy comes."

The expenses of buying produce, paying off the construction bills and keeping up the facility have been difficult, Fisk said, even though the hotel has "been profitable from Day One." After the next December-to-April high season, he said, he believes he will be able to finish paying off his loans.

Meanwhile, the beginning of the rainy season has been fairly promising. Last week, the hotel had only one guest on Wednesday night, but by the weekend almost every room was full — entirely with Gringos. 

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Big July 4 bash comes
two days early in 2005

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

July 4 will be July 2 this year because that is when the big picnic for U.S. citizens will be held west of San José.

July 4 is a Monday, and the date of the picnic is a Saturday.

The event, put on by the American Colony Committee, draws thousands of U.S. citizens to a beer company picnic grounds on the Autopista General Cañas west of San José.

The picnic each year features free beer and hotdogs as well as extensive games and activities for children. But the centerpiece are patriotic moments and a flag-raising by the U.S. Marine color guard attached to the U.S. Embassy.

The committee has not made an official announcement yet, but U.S. citizens outside of the Central Valley will want to mark their calendars.

Teams of young men
scam way into U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica 

The U.S. Embassy has been bamboozled and issued visas to young men who pretended to be members of soccer teams traveling to the United States for various tournaments, the daily La Nación said Sunday.

The soccer players remained in the United States as illegal immigrants, said the newspaper, adding that visas were issued to three different false groups during the last year.

One such group actually took the field in a Dallas, Texas, tournament and lost by 16 goals, said the newspaper. That is an unusually high score in soccer football.

The plan to masquerade illegal immigrants as soccer players was attributed to a smuggler in southern Costa Rica.

The United States has been very tough in issuing visas to Costa Ricans because of the fear that the visitors to the United States would jump their visas. There is little enforcement of immigration laws inside the United States.

Tourist becomes ill,
companion arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A visiting U.S. tourist befriended a woman who went with him to a downtown bar where the visitor began to become ill after a drink of beer.

When police arrived, the woman turned out to be a man dressed as a woman.  In fact the suspect was the same transvestite who won a court decision that allowed the adoption of a 10-year-old child.

A Fuerza Pública report said officers found the tourist’s camera in the purse of the suspect, identified as Luis Gerardo Mairena.

Police said the bartender called police after seeing the tourist, identified by the last name of Bombard, become ill.

A band of individuals, known collectively as the Viper Woman, has scored many victims among tourists and visitors in the last several years. The way they work is similar to what may have happened to the tourist Saturday night: A woman they have picked up on the street slips them knock-out drops and they awaken with belongings missing.

The Viper Woman has been described at times as a man dressed as a woman, but others have insisted the robber is a woman. The Viper Woman typically works in conjunction with bartenders in downtown bars where the victim collapses.

Mairena was interviewed by a television crew and denied any wrongdoing.

Hurricane breaks up
passing over Honduras

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hurricane Adrian quickly became Rainshowers Adrian as the Pacific storm broke up Friday over Honduras. Costa Rica was spared serious rain and damage.

The storm came ashore in El Salvador, but even the damage there was not as serious as had been anticipated. Some 23,000 persons were evacuated there as a precaution.

Only one person died, and that drowning death was in Nicaragua.

So instead of weathering a weekend of heavy rain spawned by the hurricane, the Central Valley of Costa Rica saw rain squalls Friday, Saturday and Sunday interspersed with sunshine.

But a new low pressure over the Caribbean is expected to pass over the country today and bringing with it heavy rain during the afternoon but of short duration, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional in San José.

Impact of Internet calls
considered by new study

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

While the bite being taken out of traditional international telephone revenues by voice over the Internet Protocol will continue growing, revenues will become a smaller percentage of overall international voice revenue, according to a new market analysis report released by INSIGHT Research in Boonton, N.J.

The Costa Rican telecommunications monopoly, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, has been concerned with the impact such Internet calls will have on its revenues. The INSIGHT study says that Internet calling will bring down traditional international telephone rates.

As international settlement rates between carriers are brought into line with costs, the attractiveness of voice over the Internet as a substitution for traditional phone calls will diminish, slowing down its adoption and making Internet calls a relatively smaller percentage of all international voice traffic, the study concluded. 

According to the market analysis study, "North American Telecom, International Telecom, and VoIP: A Global Market Perspective 2005-2011," international Internet revenue will reach $84 billion this year, representing about 28 percent of international voice traffic revenue. 

By 2011, Internet international voice traffic is expected to hit $96 billion, or just over 22 percent of international voice traffic. Everyone assumes that voice of the Internet calling is going to quickly overwhelm circuit-switched calling, but the reality is that the change will take longer than many imagine, said INSIGHT president Robert Rosenberg. 

"Don't get me wrong: VoIP will rule at the end of the day," said Rosenberg. But once international rates are in line with the actual service delivery costs, the chance to save money with Internet calling becomes less compelling, Internet adoption rates slow and actually become a smaller percentage of all international calls, concluded Rosenberg. 

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Space cadet has its equivalents in Spanish, too
Para estar en la Luna no hay que ser Austronauta

"You don’t have to be an astronaut to be on the moon." 

Franklin Chang is a Costa Rican who works for NASA. He was captain of at least one of the spacecraft Challenger’s missions. But landing on the moon is not among his claims to fame. Anyone in Costa Rica might go to the moon, however, because what today’s dicho really makes reference to is being totally without a clue or a "space cadet," to borrow a modern colloquial expression from the U.S.

We all know of someone who always seems to be out there in space somewhere. A very dear friend of mine takes Prozac to help calm him down, because normally he is a nervous wreck. But the Prozac keeps him up there on the moon all the time. I mean, one has to maintain some sort of connection with everyday reality, even if it’s not always very pleasant. So, my friend cut down from one Prozac a day to one tablet every other day. He keeps telling me that he’s not so dizzy now as he use to be, but I’m not so sure about that.

Estar en la luna, can be used when someone is not paying attention. A teacher might refer to a student who never seems to get what’s going on in class as está en la luna. The teacher could also say, "I was explaining to Juanito about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony pero se quedo en la luna. In other words he was so out of it that he didn’t get anything that was said.

The moon was once thought to have powers to drive a person crazy. Too much exposure to moonlight was believed to result in madness. There was also the belief that the gravitational pull of the moon on the earth caused people to behave irrationally, especially when the moon is full. The words "lunatic" (lunático in Spanish) and "moonstruck" (no literal Spanish equivalent) come out of these notions. To this day, the moon is believed to have special influence over that particular form of madness known as "falling in love," and anyone who has ever fallen in love knows that it can make you do some pretty crazy things.

A person who is seriously mentally ill is sometimes referred to as camote. Now, you may know camote is a root vegetable a little bit like a sweet potato. It is one of the ingredients in olla de carne, the wonderful hearty soup that all Costa Rican mothers make, especially during the rainy season. It is believed that camote is very good for the brain, though I can not tell you why. So, camote is often included in the diet of the inmates at

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

 the psychiatric hospital in Rohrmoser. For this reason the word camote has become a sort of euphemism for psychotic.

Now, just so we’re clear: A camote is a vegetable, but a person who is camote is a total nut (if you’ll forgive the rather bad pun). A lunático is someone who is maybe a little quirky or un poco loco. So, you can say that a person es lunático or está camote depending upon the degree of craziness. But before we go from lunático to camote total, let me tell you a short story.

My lunático friend claimed he could never find his way home. He might know how to go to the supermarket, but that’s it. Except that for some reason he knows how to find all the bars in Santo Domingo. So when I’m trying to give him directions to this or that address, I use the bars as points of reference to guide him back to our house again. And guess what? It works. So, even though he may be a little tipsy when he arrives, the bars always lead him back home.

Now, it’s possible for a thing to be camote as well as a person. An example might be the crazy way we have of giving directions in Costa Rica. For example, "the house is two hundred meters west of the church and one hundred meters south of the old botica francesa." 

But what is really camote is the fact that the botica francesa closed 50 years ago and the building that once housed it isn’t even there anymore! But the old folks of the barrio all still remember where the botica francesa used to be. So, if you really get hopelessly lost just ask an old neighborhood don, out for his afternoon constitutional, and he’ll be sure to point you in the right direction. 

No provision for financial oversight
New Paragon contract is better than earlier document
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Premier Realty Sales of Costa Rica, Ltda., has changed the sales contract for its many real estate developments, but the document still seems to be flawed.

The company’s lawyer called A.M. Costa Rica "malicious" when the newspaper questioned the firm’s original sales contract. The new agreement seems to be more consistent with contracts in use in the United States.

An analysis of the news

For example, the exact location and size of the property being sold is listed in the new agreement, which is actually a contract for deed. And the new agreement binds the company to build a home on the buyer’s lot for $60 a square foot.

The nature of the agreement is important because Premier and its U.S. subsidiary, Properties of Costa Rica, Inc., are mass marketing to U.S. residents. A consultant said the company is sending out 30 million e-mails a week, and the firm’s ads are appearing on any Google search linked to Costa Rica. 

Premier and Properties appear to be agents of Paragon Properties of Costa Rica  S.A., a name by which the Pacific coast development projects have been known in the past.

Despite the new form, the companies have not addressed important aspects of the sales agreement. There is no clause that establishes legal jurisdiction for disputes under the contract. That means buyers might not be able to enforce their rights in a court. The properties are in Costa Rica but the contracts are being negotiated for the most part in the United States.

The contract also is written completely in English, which is permitted for a legal document in Costa Rica, but the contract does not contain an obligatory clause saying that all parties agree that the document should be written in a language other than Spanish. So the validity of the document can be questioned here.

The new agreement specifically allows a buyer to request a refund of his or her money up to 180 days after signing the document. During that period the money is held in a trust account by a Florida lawyer.

The new agreement also defines the buyer’s right to a $500 payment by the real estate developer to be used in inspecting land in Costa Rica.

The companies also promise to install roads and electricity within 18 months of the signing of the contract for deed. and the companies promise to have water and sewer systems installed by the time a buyer pays off the property and obtains a building permit. Purchasers have five years to pay off any money that still is owed on the contract.

However, the agreement says that the firms will do the road and electrical work "unless prevented by an act of God or other event not within the control of Seller." Action by the various governmental agencies here would seem to constitute an event not within the control of Paragon.

If the buyer fails to pay the full price of the land, the companies agree to refund the buyer’s full down payment and cancel the agreement.

Once the 180-day inspection period is over, the Florida lawyer who is the trustee is obligated to turn over the buyer’s money to the company. There does not seem to be any requirement for the companies to provide any balance sheets or other financial information to show that the firms have the financial ability to perform the work they have promised.

The consultant, Stephen I. Tashman, said a week ago that Paragon Properties had sold out seven major developments and has purchased land for two more. A.M. Costa Rica estimated that the firms generated from $8.3 million to $14.6 million after commissions depending on how much buyers put down. 

The new sales agreement appears to be designed for projects being sold by the hectare. The company found that it can separate lots that size under agricultural rule instead of the more stringent residential subdivision requirements. A hectare sells for about $60,000 with about 50 percent down. A hectare is 2.47 acres.

One reason the company used a vague contract for the first three filings of its first project, Heights of Pacifica just north of Quepos, is because the company had no and still has no legal subdivision of the property. 

The firms still are working to convert the former cattle land into individual lots.

World Health Organization warns of influenza wave
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization is urging countries around the world to prepare now for a possible influenza pandemic. An expert committee of health officials recommends that the World Health Assembly's 192-member states take steps now to prepare for an illness which, it says, has the potential of killing millions of people around the world.

The World Health Organization warns against complacency that, it says, could be deadly. It urges governments to move ahead with the production and stockpiling of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

Health organization spokesman Ian Simpson says it is critical that nations be prepared to protect their populations against a predicted influenza pandemic.

"It is necessary because we know that a pandemic is coming," said Simpson. "The only thing that we do not know is when. We know that historically, flu pandemics have always come in 25 to 30 year cycles. The last one was in the late 1960's, so we are long overdue for a flu pandemic. And, we expect that there will be a pandemic at some point in the near future. It is not possible to say when. That is why it is important. But, the main efforts that are being made to prepare are to ensure that countries have a pandemic plan." 

Simpson explains countries must think about what they would do to protect their populations and minimize deaths when a pandemic comes. For example, he says governments must figure out who will get anti-flu drugs and vaccines. They must decide whether 

hospitals will be open to everyone or only to flu victims and whether they should close their borders to travelers from flu-infected countries.

The World Health Organization is worried that the H5N1 virus, which causes bird flu, could trigger an influenza pandemic, killing millions of people worldwide. Scientists say the bird flu virus is changing in ways that could enable the infection to be transmitted from one human being to another. 

Since late 2003, the World Health Organization reports nearly 100 adults and children in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia have fallen ill from bird flu. More than 50 have died.

Simpson says a committee of health experts strongly recommends that animal and human health agencies at every level work closely together.

"Historically new viruses for influenza have always come from bird populations through animals," he said. "So, it is important that if new strains of influenza are circulating among animals or among birds and those are identified, those, obviously are going to be identified by people working on animal health and not on human health. So, it is important that that information is shared so that people working on human health have adequate warning — that a new strain of influenza is beginning to circulate."

Simpson says it is important that human and animal health agencies coordinate their approaches toward monitoring and tackling viruses detected in humans and poultry. 

Honduras gets $215 million to make agriculture more productive
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Millennium Challenge Corporation has announced its approval of a $215 million, five-year funding agreement with the government of Honduras, which designed to enhance development and trade in the Central American nation.

The corporation’s  Board of Directors explained Friday that the funding agreement — known as a compact — "aims to increase the productivity and business skill of farmers" in Honduras. The Honduran government 

presented a plan "that will increase agricultural productivity and improve transportation links between farms and markets," the board added.

The funding is being provided under the auspices of the Millennium Challenge Account, a supplemental foreign-aid program launched by President George Bush to reward developing countries that practice good governance and invest in their citizens' education and health care. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a U.S. government entity charged with approving funding agreements with countries that qualify for such aid.

European countries irked by high-handed treatment by Cuba
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Italy and Spain are the latest European countries seeking explanations of Cuba's expulsion of lawmakers and the detention of journalists ahead of a dissident assembly.

Spain and Italy Friday called in Cuba's ambassadors to Rome and Madrid following the expulsion of an Italian journalist and two Spanish politicians. Earlier this week, the German, Czech and Polish foreign ministries 

summoned Cuban diplomats, demanding similar explanations. 

More than 200 Cuban dissidents attended the opposition assembly on Friday. The dissidents chanted "down with Fidel Castro" and listened to a message from President George Bush, who said the United States will stand by Cubans as they struggle for freedom. 

The dissidents are seeking democratic reforms after decades of Communist rule under Fidel Castro 

Jo Stuart
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