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These stories were published Tuesday, May 31, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 106
Jo Stuart
About us
What's a little blindness among friends anyway?
By the A.M. Costa Rica humor staff

Tourists and residents alike reacted calmly this week to reports that Viagra may cause blindness.

"That’s not a bad tradeoff," said Fred, a frequent visitor from Long Island as he washed down a couple of the little blue pills with an Imperial, Costa Rica’s most popular beer. "Anyway, around here it’s sometimes better if you don’t see too good."

He was sitting in a downtown bar known for its dense population of professional women. The anti-impotence drug is very popular among the middle-aged visitors to Gringo Gulch.

In fact, the little blue pills are peddled like candy on the sidewalk outside some of the popular nightspots. "We go to the social service hospital, tell the doc we have a problem and then we bring the drugs here 

and sell it to the Gringos," said Jorge, who can get you anything you want for a price.

Sometimes, he admits, the pills are fake, but none of the girls complain, he said.

"What am I going do? Eat oysters and health tonic," said another tourist who seemed to have lost his way. "What does that sign say, anyway," he asked as he squinted his eyes.

Nearby are the young men dressed as physicians who offer to take blood pressure readings for a small fee. Viagra is known to produce higher blood pressure, but not nearly as much as some of the scantily clad young ladies who hang around the bar.

Some, including a spokesman for the drug manufacturer Pfizer, think the blindness claims are overstated.

And if you have read this far, you probably are OK.

When A.M. Costa Rica published a story Wednesday about a treehouse near Uvita, editors got a lot of response, including a story from a Guanacaste couple 
who told how they found their treehouse.

The story is 


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Beach scandal claims
first official victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The growing scandal about beach development in Papagayo claimed its first victim Monday. Jorge Arce, chief of protocol for President Abel Pacheco quit.

Pacheco referred questions about his relationships with people in the Papagayo project to Arce over the weekend. Then it was disclosed that in addition to his job at Casa Presidencial, Arce was doing legal work for Bernardo Martín Moreno, a Spanish citizen.

Martín is controversial because in addition to extensive business interests he heads a foundation that just published a book written by Pacheco. He also was appointed honorary consul for Costa Rica in his hometown of Seville, Spain.

Arce, 36, was on loan to Casa Presidencial from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Martín is involved with former tourism minister Ruben Pacheco in projects on the government sponsored Papagayo project in northwestern Guanacaste.

Cigarette smugglers
lose their truck

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A ring that smuggled thousands of cigarettes into Costa Rica has been broken up by security ministry agents.

Agents of the Unidad de Propiedad Intelectual of the Dirección de Investigación Especializada conducted a sweep through a hundred sales outlets in the city where cigarettes with false markings were found.

Many were brands from Asia that are not normally seen in Costa Rica.

In Heredia Monday agents also confiscated a fully loaded truck, according to Paul Chávez, head of the unit. More than 30 suspects are believed to be involved in the case, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Bookstore owner honored

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The French government will name Ramón Mena Moya as a knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, Alliance Française has announced.  Mena is the founder and operator of Librería Francesa, the French bookstore.

He is the seventh Costa Rican to receive such an award during the 27 years that the French cultural organization has been in Costa Rica.

Our readers’ opinions

Moving here is a tradeoff

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I wrote last week with a comment about the global tax initiative and am amazed at the responses. One reader, Raman Jalota of Denver, Colorado, replied with a "hypothetical" example of living off of $30,000 per year and Ralph Antonelli of Antioch, Ill., wrote saying that I had a "good rationalization" for accepting the tax plan and that he is better off planning his vacations around the visa requirements.

As a CPA, I have seen many people make bad, even stupid, decisions based solely on a perceived tax consequence. Taxes are a part of life, and changes in tax laws are inevitable, even in a foreign country.

When one considers living in a foreign country, one needs to look at the whole picture including the overall total economic impact, and the quality of life, the conveniences and inconveniences of living abroad. If one focuses all of their attention on one narrow aspect, such as a possible new tax, one will loose sight of the total picture. 

I have never lived in Denver, Colorado, but I presume that there are some costs associated with heating one's house there in the winter. In California, my combined gas and electricity bill was over $180 per month. Here in Costa Rica, I pay less than $25 per month for electricity. That's almost a $2,000 savings per year. Even if it costs me $1,500 more in taxes to live here, I am better off, and that does not include the lower costs of food or public transportation. I haven't received my property tax bill, but I am willing to bet it is going to be a lot less than the $5,000 I was paying in the States, and I am no longer paying $550 per month for medical care.

Regarding the idea of taking vacations to get around the visa rules, that is an option, and if you don't intend to live here full time at any point in the future. On a $30,000 total income picture, I would guess the cost of the vacations might be a little less than the taxes if you take the buses, but I, for one, don't want to complicate my life with four mandatory vacations per year.

As for there not being any incentive to become a resident, again, one needs to look at the whole picture. Residency in Costa Rica is becoming more and more difficult as time passes and just like the talk of tax changes, there has also been a lot of talk of changing the 72-hour rule for visas. 

What would happen if Costa Rica were to change its residency rules to mirror what the U.S. does? Imagine how one might feel after being expelled from the country where they have been living for 10+ years because they never became residents? Can this happen here? I don't know, but I would imagine so as this is practically a daily occurrence in the U.S. If one wants to risk their retirement lifestyle plans to avoid a possible tax, they are free to do so, but are they focusing on the whole picture?

 Each person has their own motives, incentives and options when they make their decisions. There is no one universal correct decision, and what might be correct for me may be absolutely the worst decision for another person.

All I try to point out is that there are a lot of factors both economic and lifestyle that need to be considered when one makes a decision to move to a foreign country. Being a U.S. citizen is no guarantee that moving to a foreign country will be free of the hassles of dealing with changing laws, including tax laws. If you don't want residency, then you should plan for the possibility that you might have to leave some day.

The most important thing to remember is that Costa Rica, like every country in the world, makes its own decisions and laws even if those laws don't please the rest of the world.

Dave McDuffie 
San Jeronimo de Naranjo 
Alajuela, Costa Rica

Bizarre labor regulations

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thank you for a great news digest, and in particular for providing the very informational articles by C.R. Expertise. 

The most recent, dated 30 May '05 was a real "eye opener" (about employer-employee relations.)

What a bizarre country! The situation legally rewards and so encourages laziness and deception on the part of employees! Unbelievable.

This information is certainly important to keep in mind, if one employs Costa Ricans.

I guess the government doesn't mind Costa Rica being part of the "3rd world." With these kinds of unjust policies, that's what the country deserves . . . and that's where it will stay... 

Glen Love
Haverford, Pa. 
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Law of Unintended Consequences part of new tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican lawmakers are spending a few days this week studying the proposed new tax plan. The 409-page document is on a fast track to approval unless the Sala IV constitutional court finds flaws.

The plan came from a bipartisan study group of former ministers of Hacienda. That’s the budgetary ministry. These are the individuals who best know how deeply in debt is Costa Rica.

Commentary on the news

But the plan has been sold as a project that will not affect most of the citizens. Basically only the rich will pay, President Abel Pacheco has said repeatedly.

Sunday night in his speech to the nation, Pacheco said that a small group of legislators opposed to the plan have done irreparable damage to the country and its citizens, among those the most poor.

The object is to have the rich pay as the rich, said the president as he branded those who keep their money outside the country as evaders and robbers.

One of the elements of the new tax plan is global taxation in that anyone who is a Costa Rican or a resident will pay taxes on their worldwide earnings. This is the same rule that causes multinational companies to move out of the United States.

Another element is a value added tax that is designed to raise far more money than the current sales tax.

The question is can the Costa Rican government be trusted to use the money generated to pay off the staggering national debt. For every colon that is paid into the Ministerio de Hacienda as taxes and income, two colons are paid out in government spending. Debt service is a quarter of the national budget and growing.

In fact, every politically connected individual has a wish list of projects that will be done with the new money, estimated at some $500 million a year.

Curiously amid all the gloom and doom about finances, the Asamblea Legislative quietly approved — and Pacheco signed — a measure that waives taxes on 

vehicles purchased by handicapped persons. In his speech Sunday Pacheco characterized himself as handicapped. So is the legislator who pushed the bill.

Although there are many segments of society worthy of special consideration, waiving taxes in a time of economic chaos does not suggest financial discipline.

After all, this is the government that spent $840,000 to put up a tourism Web page. And it has violated the law by using fuel taxes for expenditures other than roads.

Pacheco will be known as the president with the bad roads, although some say the managed deterioration of the highways is designed to spur approval of the new tax plan.

In any society, the poor are the most vulnerable. Pacheco is an educated man with long experience in government. He knows that if taxes are raised, jobs will be lost in the private sector. If incomes are taxed worldwide, capital will flee the country. If money flows to the government, it has a tendency to disappear.

These are not complex economic theories. But they and the repercussions appear to be ignored in the blind rush to grab a windfall for the government. Not to mention other effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The rich people, whom Pacheco is anxious to soak, hire employees, buy luxuries and keep the economy humming. They can afford an extra 500 colons on their bottle of whiskey.

It is the poor who have little flexibility in spending.  Of course, the government will create all kinds of waivers that may not benefit the poor but will certainly benefit friends of government.

There also seems to be an unanswered question about the basic unfairness of a graduated tax system. The U.S. solved the problem a long time ago when Congress and the states approved a constitutional amendment allowing such a system where some people pay a higher percentage of tax on their incomes.

However, the Costa Rican Constitution still says:

ARTICLE 33. All persons are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination against human dignity.


'Up we stepped onto a teak staircase under the middle 
of this steel and glass structure into a fabulous treehouse that had no outer walls, except in the bedrooms where there were walls, but consisting of ceiling-to-floor glass.' 
Photo by Paul Pidcock
A chance encounter leads to a love affair with a home
By Paul Pidcock
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

We were certainly lost. However, we were not badly lost, as this was Costa Rica — a fairly small country in Central America. We knew for sure that we were on the Pacific Coast heading south. Alaska was far behind in our rear view mirror and ahead, if we dared venture that far, was Patagonia. 

Our map was useless. The rough dirt road that we were on abruptly ended at an estuary, and there was no way through. Now there was nothing else to do but go back.

Retracing, we entered a small village, where I noticed a bar on the left by a bridge with Latin music blaring and a couple of the locals near the entrance teetering a little bit too much for that early in the day. 

"I’ll go and find out where we are," said I to my traveling companion, Jeanne who remained in the vehicle.

I was getting nowhere with the bemused local patrons when I noticed a bare-shirted, silver-haired fellow on a bright red all terrain vehicle pull up behind our car with a video camera waving in his hand. 

"Do you speak English?" I asked. He did, and asked if he could help. 

I explained we were heading south on the peninsula. 

"I’ve done it before, but wouldn’t try it this time of year with the rivers still running high" he said. 

"What about that road over there?" I queried. 

"Don’t know, never been down it. I was going to set up my camera to get a shot of myself rounding the bend," he explained. We introduced — his name was Al and was obviously an American. I mentioned that besides being lost, we were looking for a place to stay for a month or two. 

"Well you might want to take a look at my place. My wife and I are going back to the States next week. It is just a little unusual." he quipped.

Jeanne was now out of the car hoping to investigate what was going on. "Jeanne this is Al. We may have found a place to stay."

Having agreed to take a look, we hopped back in the 

car and followed Al through the village past the soccer field, through some chickens and dogs, through a river into a jungle, then up the side of a mountain.

"What are we getting into?" asked Jeanne "Don’t know exactly. This is a bit weird."

Finally emerging through the forest, we pulled up on a driveway to piano music, and Al looked up, saying, "Hi, Honey. We have some visitors."

The next few minutes were real eye openers because Jeanne and I had never seen a house quite anything like this. Up we stepped onto a teak staircase under the middle of this steel and glass structure into a fabulous treehouse that had no outer walls, except in the bedrooms where there were walls, but consisting of ceiling-to-floor glass. 

Only the trees and jungle were surrounding this immense house. The floors were teak as were the ceilings — all supported with forest green beams of steel. The blue water and white surf of the Pacific Ocean could be easily seen off in the distance. It was indeed a visually stunning structure.

My immediate reaction was that I liked it. However, Jeanne was skeptical. We said we would consider their kind offer, but needed a day or two to digest everything. So we booked into a nearby Swiss lodge for the night. The next day we went back for a discussion and surprised ourselves by deciding to rent it for two or three months.

Life in this mountainside forest retreat was an absolutely incredible experience. We later continued successfully on to Tierra del Fuego at the southern end of the world, and then all the way back to Toronto, but we never forgot this place.

And indeed we returned here to this very same treehouse on the voyage back north to Canada. That is why we now, a year later, live at least part of the year in a beautiful jungle preserve overlooking the warm Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica. And all this happened because we got lost. 


I am now the treehouse owner. My girlfiend and I had the good fortune to be able to purchase this amazing 2,500-square-foot treehouse 100 percent earlier this  year. It is in Guanacaste overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a 250-acre eco-forest.

After 21 years
Prosecutor says that La Penca investigation continues
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The La Penca bombing is still an open case and still under investigation, said the Ministerio Público Monday in response to questions from news people.

The response came on the 21st anniversary of the bombing that killed seven persons, including three newspeople. Among them were Linda Frazier, a reporter for The Tico Times, Jorge Quirós, a Channel 7 cameraman, and his assistant Evelio Sequeira. Some 15 persons were injured. The Tico Times still carries the reporter’s name on its masthead.

Each year news associations raise the issue of the 1984 La Penca bombing because many of the survivors of the attack feel that the investigation is incomplete. 

The bombing took place at a press conference across the border in Nicaragua at a ranch called la Penca where Contra leader Edén Pastora was holding a press conference. Pastora was the presumed target of the bomb that was hidden in a briefcase. 

The Colegio de Periodistas, the journalists professional group, joined in a call Monday for further investigation.

Many theories abound as to why Pastora was targeted. Before the blast Quirós filmed the bomber who came to the conference in the guise of a foreign newsman.
Police sources say that the bomber, Vital Roberto Gaguine, has died, but reports are frequent of the man being seen in Costa Rica. Costa Rican officials investigated the bombing extensively as did the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, the case is tied up with Cold War politics.

A formerly secret F.B.I. report released under the Freedom of Information Act is so heavily censored as to be useless. Francisco Dall'Anese, the current chief prosecutor in Costa Rica, complained last year that his agency’s investigation has hit brick walls due to classified U.S. documents.

Fabián Barrantes, chief of the press section for the Poder Judicial, gave the short statement Monday.

The bombing took place while the civil war still was taking place in Nicaragua. Pastora was a former Sandinista who began to fight against the Sandinista government.

Any new investigation must also look into allegations of drug trafficking by contras and links to the C.I.A. in Costa Rica. One figure is John Hull, the U.S.-Costa Rican landowner who set up an airstrip on his property just south of the Nicaraguan border. It is here where Central Intelligence Agency pilots ferried arms for the contras from the United States and elsewhere. He now lives in Indiana.

There are allegations that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration helped Hull flee Costa Rica to avoid a murder trial. Hull was investigated and was one of several suspects in the La Penca bombing. A U.S. government report later said that agency pilots were involved in his escape but added that the pilots said they did not know Hull was wanted at the time.

Another question is why the United States declined to extradite Hull to face Costa Rican justice. In part, there is an allegation that Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the then-president, didn’t want Hull, a personal friend, brought back: 

In July 1989 then-President Oscar Arias issued a directive barring Oliver North, President Ronald Reagan’s counter-terrorism coordinator, and others from Costa Rica forever. He took the step after the Asamblea Legislativa voted overwhelmingly for the measure. 

In addition to North, those barred from entering the country were Maj. Gen. Richard Secord; John Poindexter, the former national security adviser; Lewis Arthur Tambs, then the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica; and the former CIA director in Costa Rica, Joseph Fernandez. 

Colombian military finds a big stash of amunition
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian military has made the largest seizure of ammunition and other explosives in the country's history. Colombian military and government officials consider the discovery a victory in their fight against rebels. 

Half a million rounds of rifle ammunition were discovered in a secret subterranean vault in the jungle of southern Colombia. Soldiers patrolling the area by land and air also found grenades and other explosives. 

The secret cache is said to belong to the left-wing rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

Colombia has been battling FARC for over 40 years. Both the Colombian government and the United States considers FARC a terrorist organization. 

Gen. Carlos Fracica says the discovery is a major victory for Colombia in its struggle against the FARC.

Fracica says "with this seizure we have saved many lives, because each one of these cartridges could have been used in an attack on a Colombian." 

Though President Alvaro Uribe claims Colombia is winning its war with the FARC, the rebels have become more brazen in their attacks in recent weeks, killing many policemen and civilians. 

Last week authorities said FARC armed gunmen attacked a town in southern Colombia, storming a government office and a police station, killing 11 people, four of them police officers. 

And earlier this month rebels killed 13 police officers in separate fire fights near the Panamanian border and close to Ecuador.

Chávez said to be softening his stand on U.S. extradition of Posada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, said that Venezuela President Hugo Chávez has softened his threat last week to break diplomatic ties with the United States. 

Venezuela is calling for the United States to turn over Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile wanted by the Caracas government in the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976. Chávez has accused the United States of 

harboring Posada, and threatened to break diplomatic relations if Posada was not extradited. 

The case is in the U.S. legal system and, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, it is a legal, rather than a diplomatic, issue. Chávez told a meeting of Venezuelan businessmen Thursday that the country didn't want major conflicts, not even with the United States, and that he was open to talks. 

The ambassador was interviewed on Voice of America’s live Spanish-language weekly public affairs show.

Jo Stuart
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