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These stories were published Friday, May 27, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 104
Jo Stuart
About us
Proposed immigration bill ups rentista amount
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An amendment to the proposed immigration reform law says that a husband and wife seeking rentista status here must show a monthly income of $2,000. And they must show an additional $500 a month for each dependent they bring with them.

The immigration law is approaching a vote in the Asamblea Legislativa, and the draft of the bill was made available by the legislative services department of the assembly.

Article 77 of the bill retains the current conditions. Pensionados have to have an income outside Costa Rica of at least $600 a month to gain residency here. And a rentista must have an income from external sources of $1,000 a month.

But a new Article 78 qualifies this amount if  the rentista brings a spouse. In that case the monthly amount is $2,000 or $24,000 a year. 

Those with residency here also have the right to bring children. Rentistas are more likely than pensionados to have youngsters in the family. The new section said that minor children and students as old as 25, plus handicapped children are welcome, but the monthly amount is increased $500 a month for each one.

A couple with three children, then would have to show an income each month of $3,500 and a starting amount in a bank here or outside the country totaling 60 months or five years.  That’s $210,000.

Under the current law they would have to have a bank deposit of $60,000.

Conversation: one of the perks of train travel
Having arrived in Pasadena and visited with my daughter, my plan was to take Amtrak north to San Jose to visit my son. My daughter made the reservations, and when I got on the train (after an hour and a half delay) I discovered she had reserved a first class compartment for the 10-hour trip. 

I would have booked coach but must say I enjoyed my tiny private room complete with table and opposite seat that I could pull out and put up my feet. First class entitled me to two free meals, a wine-tasting session, a movie and access to a different lounge car than I normally sat in. 

One of the many things I like about train travel are the stations. I love train stations as much as I dislike airports. Many train stations, especially those in major cities, were built during the heyday of train travel and are monuments to art and architecture. The train station in Los Angeles is one such with marble inlaid floors, soaring ceilings and fat, comfortable padded armchairs for its weary travelers. 

The little Rufus crested sparrows that have made their hunting grounds inside the station (where they can count on crumbs from the snack bar and restaurant) are less shy of humans than those on my balcony back home. They add a nice touch to the aura of friendliness and relaxed anticipation that seems to permeate a train station. (This is not necessarily an unbiased opinion.) 

Train travel is all about meeting other travelers and having time to talk to them.

By the time I had indulged in this pleasure during my trip I was ready to retreat to my compartment utterly worn out and practically hoarse. At lunch I was seated with a couple who were taking the train for the first time and their friend who had talked them into it. They had flown to Los Angeles from San Francisco just to take the train all the way to Seattle. He had flown in from Reno. They marveled at the sights and views of California not available either by car or plane. 

Later in the lounge, reading the LA Times I couldn’t resist asking the man from lunch what he thought of the stem cell research situation. He responded in a very quiet voice — almost a whisper — that he was careful not to discuss 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

politics or religion with anyone because he wasn’t sure if they agreed or disagreed with him — and either way, he said, he was in trouble. Regardless, we did discuss politics.

As I was about to leave the lounge, a young man nearby engaged me in conversation, and since I was standing and being tossed about by the bumping and jerking of the train, invited me to sit down. That began an hour’s conversation about train travel (he worked for the railroad and was enjoying the perk of a free ride north to see friends). We both deplored the lack of government funding for trains. 

The U.S. is the only country in the developed world that so grudgingly supports its railroads. He said the demise of the popularity of train travel began when FDR put the WPA to work building highways when the president was rebuilding the economy. I was more convinced it all began in Los Angeles with the car. The lack of funding was apparent in the condition of the tracks during this trip. My last trip on this train was not nearly as rough.

Before I left the lounge, I had learned the "How we met" story of a couple who were going north to visit grandchildren and talked with a man who was not afraid to discuss politics and his anti-Iraq war stance with anyone. He had a small book entitled "On Bullshit," by Harry Frankfurt. He said it was becoming a best seller. When I arrived in San Jose, I tried to find it at Barnes & Noble but it was sold out.

My son is studying Spanish and has his final while I am here. I have been helping him study for his exam, which is mainly on reflexive verbs and preterit tense. As I hold up the flash cards or check something in his text book, I don’t let him know that I am learning as well. In my studies of Spanish I never did get a good grounding in the past tense, and that, after all, is the story telling tense — the tense you need to tell what happened. It is obvious I don’t have that same problem in English. 

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Our readers' opinions

He’s scolded for lack of language

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I don't usually comment about your excellent articles but I felt I couldn't let this one pass. Did I get it right that this guy, Steve Frisk, is actually proud to have been in Costa Rica four years and hardly speaks any Spanish? I mean, helloooo. Is that something to be proud about?

He sort of reminds me of a mentally challenged man I once had the opportunity to converse with during a long inter-Pacific flight. This Japanese guy had lived six years in California and the only English he spoke was: "Hi my name is Hikaru Nakagachi and I'm mentally retarded". Oh yeah he also learned how to say some four-letter words but I'm sure that so did Steve. 

Anyways my point is this guy had limitations and he was embarrased that he didn't learn more English. He wasn't proud of it !!! Anyways more power to you, Steve, and I hope you learn Spanish during the one-week course you're planning on taking. If for some reason you don't learn enough Spanish (some people actually take more than a week to learn. . . . I know I know, I can't believe it either) then maybe you can bring an English teacher down there and have those people learn some English. 

That way they will even be more grateful/indebted to you!!! Just make sure you invite me for the unveiling of your statue when they finally decide to put one in your honor at the central park that I am sure you will build for them. 

Renato Barles 
Orange, California 

He’s worried about tax plan

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This is in response to the comment by Dave McDuffie on the new global tax being proposed in Costa Rica. I am a retired U.S. citizen about to move to Costa Rica (in 8 to 12 months.) Can someone illustrate to me how the new tax will affect me? 

Let's assume that I make $30,000 a year in retirement income and pay $3,000 a year in taxes to IRS (assumed effective rate of 10%). And that $5,000 of my income (included in the total) per year is from interest/passive sources. Current tax structure in Costa Rica tells me I will pay a little more in taxes the $5,000 a year earned per year will probably be taxed at 15% so my taxes go up by $750 per year. So, my calculations tell me that my taxes will be $3,000 to IRS and 750 to Costa Rica.

How will the new tax affect me if I move into Costa Rica? I am sure many other readers have the same concern. I will definitely not move to Costa Rica if my taxes go up significantly. 

I think that is a big concern most foreigners living in Costa Rica have and others like me thinking of moving there. Also, we all know of the messy bureaucracy Costa Rica has, how will these taxes be administered? 

Will they be forthcoming and courteous or go the 'high handed' way of the IRS? 

Raman Jalota 
Denver, Colorado

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tax employees here are even now getting training by representatives of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and we don’t think the topic is customer service.

Michigan man is against trade pact

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Costa Rica beware! Ask any working class American what they think of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and you will get an earful of skyrocketing unemployment in our country, stores full of substandard merchandise from every Asian country in the world and streets full of vacant factories that once produced and employed the people of America. 

Big corporations are turning record profits while the prices of everyday necessities are slowly creeping beyond the reach of all but the rich. Our cities have people living in the streets and eating from garbage cans. Crime is almost out of control as the poor and unemployed fight for survival. 

I am speaking from experience; after the company I worked at for 16 years suddenly closed its doors I was forced to take a job at half the salary just to stay off the unemployment line. Mr. Bush is for big business and supports his buddies that own some of the biggest corporations in the world. 

Costa Rica is too beautiful of a country and the people are too friendly to do this to themselves. I save all year just to spend one week on your beaches and in your forests; vote no on the NAFTA before its too late. 

Keep up the good work A.M. Costa Rica.

Eric E. Scheuer 
Warren, Michigan. 

Inn owners win praise

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I want to thank Michael Crow & Dawn Jones from The Dragonfly Inn in Alajuela for their comments about BBG Communications and for having the integrity to remove the phone supplied by that company from their inn. 

The policies of BBG Communications are truly unconscionable. It was my child who was in Costa Rica on a school trip, using her debit card to make phone calls when she was not allowed to use the international calling card from the hotels. (We did not know about buying a phone card in the local country! I wish we had!) 

In the end, my daughter's wonderful memories will endure and, in time, I will forget that it cost me nearly $400 in telelphone calls... 

Barbara Hayden 
Plattsburgh, New York

Sex exploitation unit
gets new equipment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British Embassy has donated $8,000 in video and computer equipment to the security ministry’s unit against sexual exploitation of minors.

The digital equipment will be used to generate evidence in cases of exploitation, said a ministry spokesperson.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública created the Unidad Contra la Explotación Sexual two years ago. Since its creation the unit had broken up two networks, one of pedophiles and the other of sexual abusers, said Ana Helena Chacón, vice minister, who is in charge of the unit.

More than 20 suspects have been sent to prison by the unit, the ministry said.

Great Britain was represented by Vicky Baxter, an embassy official, at a ceremony Thursday.

Earthquake in south

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake with a magnitude of about 3.5 took place about 10 kms. (about 6 miles) south of Quepos about 2:20 p.m. Thursday. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

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Our new five-star food and restaurant page
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After nine months, our food critic summarizes opinions
The column "The Food We Eat" has been a regular feature of A. M. Costa Rica for more than a full gestation period, nine months. It seems to be time to look back, to reassess, to redefine and to air more views of our readers. 

First, I need to thank you all for the marvelous feedback you have sent my way. Your comments have been helpful, informative and nearly all positive. Thanks, too, to the editor for allowing me the freedom to choose my own topics and content without a single attempt to censor, except to enforce a pre-existing policy not to include telephone numbers of restaurants. Three readers asked that we include numbers.

Our shorthand for quality and cost needs to be repeated. 

0 stars — Not recommended even if you are in the neighborhood. 

´ — Average quality food and not likely to be a health hazard. 

´´— Better than average when compared to its peers, e.g. roast chicken emporium that outshines other chicken places. 

´´´— Very good against all competition. Not necessarily fancy or expensive. 

´´´´ — Outstanding and worth a special trip. 

C — Cheap. Less than 1,500 colons for platter and beverage. 

$ — Less than 3,000 colons for a one-course meal and fruit or soft drink. Inexpensive. 

$$ — Up to 6,000 for the same. Moderate 

$$$ — 6,000 to 10,000. Expensive 

$$$$ — More than 10,000 for main course and non-alcoholic beverage. Very expensive

Olivia asks for a list of my Five Star choices. Sorry Olivia, there is no five star category, but here is a short list of my Four Star choices, the top 11 in alphabetical order, including a few that I have not yet reviewed formally: Bacchus, Bakea, Da Marco, De Bartolo, De Lâ’Olla Del Mar, El Grano De Oro, Ile de France, La Pecora Nera, and Tin Jo. 

Most popular with readers, also alphabetical: 

1.) Bacchus 

2.) Bohemia

3.) Colbert 

4.) Da Marco. I gave it three stars originally but it continues to please and improve despite larger crowds. A fourth star earned puts it in the top eleven. 

5.) El Invernadero 

6.) Intercontinental Sunday Brunch and 

7.) Tin Jo 

Most complaints from readers. 

1.) Antonio’s reputation for fine veal dishes and great Italian specialties may be in jeopardy. Two specific veal comments were that it was "full of gristle" and it "had a spoiled taste." Comment #3 was that it used to be among the best but has not kept up. 

2.) Cerutti. There is no question that Cerutti’s kitchen puts out fine food in a lovely setting. The complaints have been about price gouging by overcharging for wine (more than the price on the wine list) and daily specials (much more costly than similar menu items), by offering a comparable bottle of wine when a selection was not in stock, only to have it appear on the bill for twice or more than the cost of the original choice, and for a condescending or rude attitude by the wait staff, on occasion. 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


There also was a complaint by a bilingual Gringo-looking Tico who was handed an English language menu that had higher prices. It is much too fine a restaurant to suffer from such remediable attitude problems. I look forward to more positive e-mails in the future. 

3.) Tequila Joe’s Tex Mex. The complaints from a husband and wife were that the flavors were neither Tex nor Mex and the soggy tortillas and enchiladas suggested too much microwave use. The owner says that they don't have a microwave and are very busy, particularly at night. He has a good history for knowing bar food, including Tex Mex at his Big Dog places and next door at his new Irish pub. Perhaps the couple should wait a while and try again. 

How are they doing? Shogun is thriving, deservedly, despite all the new competition. Nera, the Japanese and Korean restaurant has closed. The Saturday and Sunday Dim Sum offered at Lotus continues to impress but the diners are few. Wall Street seems to be doing well in its new digs and its second spot in Santa Ana is open and busy. What do I know about the new deli in Pavas? Nothing yet, but the prospects are exciting. Santa Ana’s Tex-Mex is still open for business and for sale. El Che closed. 

Mediocre or good but overrated according to some readers: Ceviche del Rey in Santa Ana, Chango’s, La Princesa Marina, Little Seoul, Machu Picchu Este, Outback, Samurai, Tony Roma’s. 

Correcting a misconception: All past reviewers have pigeonholed Don Wang as an exclusively Cantonese restaurant. In truth, there are menu items in the style of Beijing, Shanghai and Szechwan, though the bulk of the menu is Canton style. 

Eating near the airport: Two businessmen, one from Germany, the other from Canada, made similar requests. They fly in often, frequently stay at the Hampton Inn across from the airport, and wondered where to eat nearby, beyond the hotel restaurant. Good news. There are six choices within a few hundred yards. The new casino adjacent to the hotel has overpriced but decent bar food. The Buffalo wings ($6) and chicken breast sandwiches ($7) are tasty and generous if you don’t mind smoke from cigars and cigarettes, loud music and scantily clad dancers on the bar after 9 p.m. There is a free night time buffet for gamblers. 

Denny’s has a new restaurant in the attached building offering their universal usual American fare. They are doing a good job serving large crowds from the hotel and casino. 

Rosti Pollo is a consistent standby next door, reliable and reasonable. Around the corner towards Alajuela, La Casona Mariscos is a very popular open air restaurant that serves a wide variety of well prepared seafood and steaks at Costa Rican, rather than tourist prices. 

I haven’t tried El Pueblo, directly across the street from the seafood place, but have heard that it serves decent comida tipica. Farther up the road a few hundred yards is Papi Pollo, a very popular local chain for chicken fried or roasted. 

Please keep your words of wisdom coming to Thanks. 

Desamparados residents get a chance to hear about proposed tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de Desamparados is holding a conference about the proposed fiscal reform package at 2 p.m. today in the municipal building there.

An announcement from the municipality said that the conference would be in conjunction with the Dirección General de Tributación because of the proposed law’s impact on municipalities. The announcement cited taxes, a value added levy and changes in codes and procedures.

Municipal officials all over Costa Rica are concerned by the 409-page proposal because the measure does not 

seem to exempt local governments from paying the value added tax, which is to replace the current 13 percent sales tax. Without an exemption from the tax, the municipalities will suffer a big bite from their budgets.

Some legislators are holding discussions on possible exemptions for local governments, but nothing is settled yet. Other lawmakers are not anxious to make any exemptions.

The discussion today will be in Spanish, and municipal officials are urging citizens to attend to learn about the tax plan, which is expected to raise an additional $500 million for the central government.

Former official from Chile installed in hemispheric post
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Installed as secretary-general of the Organization of American States Thursday, Chile's former interior 
minister, José Miguel Insulza, said the inter-American institution should work to better prevent and address crises that affect the stability of member countries.

In his inaugural address to the hemispheric organization, Insulza said that it "should aspire to be an organization adept at anticipating and dealing with crises that affect the region's stability and thus do our part to shape a world 

José Miguel Insulza
that is a safer place to live in." As part of this effort, he said that the organization should work to ensure that the Inter-American Democratic Charter is effectively enforced.

"The Inter-American Democratic Charter was signed so that it would be fulfilled. It is not just another 

declaration," Insulza said. "Effective application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is indispensable for the future of our democracies."

The post of secretary general is the one vacated by former Costa Rican president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, who returned home Oct. 15 to face corruption allegations.

In addition to enhancing democratic governance throughout the Western Hemisphere, other regional priorities identified by Insulza include the promotion of human rights and more inclusive development, in part through the crafting of a Social Charter of the Americas.

Insulza also called for the strengthening of existing regional mechanisms such as the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism and other groups dealing with cybercrime, money laundering and corruption.

The new secretary-general said that the Organization of American States should seek increased coordination with the United Nations and other international organizations to improve cooperation and avoid duplication of efforts.

Political data base of the Americas to be beefed up
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  A U.S.-supported political data base of the Americas that provides information on the 34 member nations of the Organization of American States will be restructured and strengthened under an agreement between the hemispheric organization and Georgetown University in Washington.

In a statement this week, the organization said its joint Internet-based project with Georgetown University provides political information, reference material, comparative studies, and statistical data about the member states.

The U.S. government has been the major donor to the database, providing over $500,000 to date.

John Biehl, director of the organization’s  Department of Democracy and Political Affairs, and Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, signed the third cooperation agreement for the database.

Wendy Sneff, representing the U.S. mission to the organization, said the database can be an "important instrument not only for researchers and academics but for everyone who wants to learn more about how democracy works."

The Political Database of the Americas was established in 1995 as a result of the preceding year's first Summit of the Americas in Miami. At that summit, the leaders 

of the Western Hemisphere called for greater exchange of information among democratic institutions.

The third cooperative agreement between the Organization of American States and Georgetown University seeks to modernize and improve the database Web site, to substantially increase its coverage, create new cooperation among other institutions and bodies of the inter-American system, and develop programs which would create a permanent financing base.

Biehl called the database a "critical tool that will help to continue to improve the quality of politics for practitioners and researchers all over the Americas and the Caribbean."

Valenzuela said the database has contributed "important initiatives to the entire process of reflection on democratic consolidation and transitions towards democracy in Latin America."

The database is organized into eight sections: Constitutions and Constitutional Studies, Executive Institutions, Legislative Institutions, Judicial Institutions, Electoral Systems and Electoral Data, Decentralization and Local Governance, and Civil Society.

More than 350,000 users access the service each month. The information is provided free of charge.

The Political Database of the Americas is available on the Georgetown University Web site.

Bolivian military denies rumors of possible coup
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivia's military commander denies the armed forces are plotting a coup following appeals by two high-ranking officers that President Carlos Mesa step down. There have been daily protests by thousands of Bolivians angered by Mesa's handling of Bolivia's lucrative gas industry. 

Commander-in-Chief Luis Aranda condemned two lieutenant colonels for their nationally televised address calling for President Carlos Mesa to step down.

The call for Mesa's resignation comes amid daily protests by thousands of Bolivians demanding reform to Bolivia's gas industry. Demonstrators have clogged the streets here every day this week.

Last week Bolivian lawmakers approved a controversial bill drastically increasing taxes on foreign-owned oil and gas companies. Although opposed to it, Mesa allowed the bill to pass hoping it would appease protesters. The bill adds a 32 percent tax to an 18 percent royalty foreign energy companies already pay. 

Protesters and the country's political opposition say the measure is still insufficient and that the only way poor Bolivians will reap the benefits of its lucrative natural resources is through total state control. 

The head of the influential Movement Towards Socialism Party, Evo Morales, a leading proponent of gas nationalization, has called for a national debate on the issue and has threatened to escalate protests if the demand is not met. 

Morales says the Movement Towards Socialism Party is seeking a meaningful transformation of Bolivia's economy.

Bolivia's gas issue has been a flashpoint for controversy and violence over the last few years, prompting everything from peaceful street demonstrations to full-scale riots that left dozens dead. 

Worried about increased violence, President Mesa tendered his resignation in March, only to have Bolivia's congress reject it. He then called for early elections in August, two-years ahead of schedule. 

Jo Stuart
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