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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, June 5, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 110        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Officials decline to act on suspect document
Registro Nacional nears meltdown over fraud
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The supposedly secure property records at the Registro Nacional are under daily attack.  Computers make up what amounts to a virtual vault, securely holding titles to trillions of dollars of Costa Rican properties.  Paperwork and other computers are the attackers commanded by crooks stealing the assets of others.

The thieves are smart and know how to beat the honest out of assets in a fell swoop.  They use the weaknesses of the registro to their advantage.  The over-burdened organization’s computers collapse under pressure almost on a daily basis.  There are those who work there willing to risk their career for a fast buck.

In the past few weeks, registro officials sloughed off obvious fraudulent activity as unimportant when a suspicious case was presented at the institution because the officials said to the filer, “We have too many of these fraud cases to work on.” 

This case involves a stolen property, and the records at the registro are supposed to be annotated to show that a court action is in progress. This annotation, signed by a judge, is supposed to freeze any transfers of the property to other persons.

In this case the bad guys have greased the wheels of the registry machine to clean off most the annotations of the courts so they can sell the property off quickly to an innocent party, robbing them of their money by selling them something dirty.

The Sala IV in vote 29-2001 requires the Registro Nacional to immobilize a registered asset when a properly filed complaint, suggesting improper or potentially illicit movement, signals an alert. 

In this case, for three weeks Registro workers inexplicably have failed to freeze a certain property record despite daily urgings and valid legal paperwork. They claim they are too far behind in their work.

To understand how the system is vulnerable to fraud. it is important to understand how the system works:

Notaries obtain a notary book, official security paper, security tickets and a crimping metal seal upon graduation.  People making contracts meet in front of a notary.  The notary transcribes the agreement in his or her official book, and the parties sign it under the textual representation of the facts.  This makes the contract legal but not registered.  

The notary, who in Costa Rica has fé pública, or public faith,  must make a written testimony identical to the content in the notary book on his or her security paper and attest that everything is correct.  The professional glues a security ticket to the testimony, signs the document and seals it with the crimping seal.

Filing this official document at the Registro Nacional starts a registration process.  The process begins by running the paper through a computerized stamping machine giving it a number with two parts, a “tomo,” a volume number, and an “asiento,” or entry number.

A registrar gets the document next and checks the details of the content.  At this point, which can take days, weeks or even months, the paperwork is registered or returned as defective.  If it is registered, the paperwork is microfilmed and returned to the notary as a deed of the transaction.  If it is defective, the document is returned to the

notary where the professional fixes the defects and resubmits the documentation when corrected.

The registro records all registered documents in a history of movements.  The result of all movements make up a single record of the asset.

This is how the system breaks down. 

First, dishonesty pays more these days.  It was not that many years ago, a fraudulent transaction, forged signature, or fictitious paperwork might have brought a few hundred dollars.  This is when land values were not gold.

Today, foreigners are driving property values skyward.

Now this same kind of activity can reap thousands upon thousands of dollars.  Most dishonest professionals never go to jail because they know their way around the law.   

Second, the dishonest know more about how the registro works than do the honest, and they know most people never do their homework to check or follow-up on transactions. So a fake document can be filed and not be noticed for years. Or a document can say something much different than the contract in the notary's book.

Third, but not last, the Costa Rican culture has an “anything goes if you can get away with it attitude.”  Two presidents being arrested reflect poorly on the country’s social ethics. 

Many legal leaders are screaming for digital signatures because they say it will curb the stealing of property.   The country now has a digital signature law, but it is years away from implementation. A digital signature would show who filed a document that turns out later to have been a fake or a misrepresentation.

Costa Rican property owners — especially absentee owners —  must watch their property using their computers as well as other resources until and if the Registro Nacional improves its security and efficiency.  Mortgage certificates remain a great protective measure.  One cannot be too cautious.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at crlaw@licgarro.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info.  Copyright 2004-2006, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 110

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Costa Rica Consensus
proposed for hemisphere

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation is proposing the "consensus of Costa Rica" at the hemispheric meeting that had its formal opening Sunday in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The meeting is the general assembly of the Organization of American States.

The consensus, according to Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Costa Rica's foreign minister, is a new alliance for development that promotes opportunities at a global scale and urges a reduction in military spending.

Within this consensus, Costa Rican officials, including President Óscar Arias Sánchez are proposing that developed nations pardon the debts of developing countries so that more can be spent on health, education and housing and less on arms and soldiers, said a statement from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Pacific storm provides
water but scant damage

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A line of storms swept in from the Pacific again Sunday afternoon and evening, but the downpours did not seem to cause serious damage.

Friday morning the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued an alert about a low pressure system in the Pacific. National emergency officials followed suit with their own alert for the central Pacific. A string of storms swept through the country Friday afternoon.

The whole Pacific coast is vulnerable because damage caused by hurricane-spawned downpours last year have not been repaired.

However, it appears that Sunday the bulk of the rain fell in the Central Valley. Pavas got 62 mms. between 7 and 10 p.m. Sunday. That's 2.44 inches. But the rest of the Central Valley had much less rain, and Limón and Liberia had hardly any, according to the  Instituto Meteorológico.

Park access for blind
and disabled urged

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An advocate for the blind and disabled is urging Costa Rican officials to improve access to national parks and also provide consideration for the blind at the Museo Nacional.

Alberto Cabezas of the Fundación para el Progreso de las Personas Ciegas said that the bulk of the national parks are not open to the blind or persons who are in wheelchairs.

He said at parks there are no signs in braille nor are the brochures that explain the park features printed in braille for the benefit of the blind. He said this constitutes a violation of Law 7600. This is the same statute that is causing transit officers to ticket bus drivers whose buses do not have wheelchair ramps.

Cabezas also led a fight for blind persons to vote secretly without disclosing their political preferences to persons who were assigned to help them. This requires ballots in braille.

Cabezas said Binna Burra National Park in Australia is an example where officials have made efforts to accommodate the blind and disabled.

The Museo Nacional should have areas where the blind can put their hands on objects, he said, giving as an example a museum in Barcelona. Spain.

Our reader's opinion

Siesta was a tradition
through 1960s here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Prior to the recent phenomena of businesses remaining open all day, siesta was a common practice.

As a matter of fact, it was a time when, families had lunch together, discussed what had transpired at school, or work, and some stations played classical music, or we had the Charlas de Agua Dulce, and sport commentators at the Hotel Palace.

I attended a Spanish girl's public school in the mornings and an Episcopal-sponsored, private English school in the afternoon. This was in Port Limón.

I later moved to San José, where I completed my studies at the Liceo de San José in Barrio México at the age of 15. I was too young to be admitted to the nursing school, so, I went on to become a bilingual executive secretary and bookeeper.

By 17, I went on to study nursing, at the Universidad de Costa Rica, San Pedro. This was the first class, at the university level, 1967. Siesta was still a part of the culture. We wish it could be recaptured.

North Americans, had great difficulty with that practice, at the time, and could be heard grumbling at the banks, when they had to return at 1, to continue their transactions. "This is a damn waste of time." They also had, and continue to be frustrated over the many holidays, Dia de los Santos, etc.

I migrated to the United States and completed my nursing studies in New York, where I currently reside. I am living at the same standard as my former classmates, in Costa Rica but with some measure of stress.

Dorla Alleyne
New York reader
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 110


If there is any time to have hope, it will be Friday
Si por la víspera se saca el día

“If the previous day is any indication of today. . . .” This dicho supports the notion that the past is the best indicator of how the future will turn out. If it rained yesterday, for example, there is a good chance that it will rain again today. But this saying is more often applied to people: If, for instance, someone has been a ne’er-do-well in the past, he’s likely to continue his wastrel’s ways in the future.

This coming Friday Costa Rica will open the 2006 World Cup soccer competition with a match against host country Germany. In the last three practice games Costa Rica has been scored against 10 times, while the Ticos have made only two goals. The German team, on the other hand, has made 13 goals in three practice games. So if si por la víspera se saca el día, holds true, then the Costa Rican team could well be in for a drubbing.

But this is soccer we are talking about here, and the team is our beloved selección, the pick of the best players from throughout our brave little nation. There is another dicho that seems more appropriate to the situation than today’s. It is: La esperanza es lo último que se pierde, meaning; “hope is the last thing one gives up.”

A very dear friend of mine – also from Costa Rica – works in the same university I do in the States.
These days we are constantly e-mailing and calling each other on the phone to scream and complain about these last three practice games and to bemoan our loss of faith in the Costa Rican coach. But come next Friday our hearts will be full of hope and they will be with our boys in Munich at 1800 hours, 10 a.m. Costa Rica time, when they face off against their German hosts.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Next Friday the government has declared a half-day holiday in Costa Rica so everyone will be able to watch the game. But I hope that no one expects that folks will go quietly back to work afterwards. Who ever heard of half a holiday anyway!?  The entire country will come to a standstill for this game. I expect traffic in San José will all but disappear for once. Good luck if you are looking for a taxi during the game.

"Oooeeeee-ooee-ooee-ooeeeeee Ticos, Ticos" will be the chant heard throughout Costa Rica before, during, and after the game. We will be screaming so loud that Saborio, Marin, Centeno, Porras and the rest of the Costa Rican team will hear us all the way to Germany and know that the hearts of the nation are with them!

So don’t get mad if you go to the bank next Friday and find it closed. Instead, catch the spirit! Just look for a neighborhood bar with a television tuned to the game, sit back, relax, have a beer and enjoy the fun. It’s the World Cup! Viva Costa Rica!!

Tamarindo residents tear down project that was going up on green area
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The event did not rise to the level of the Boston Tea Party, but Tamarindo residents tore down walls and structures Saturday. They said the municipality has allowed construction on land that has been designated as a park.

The Asociación Pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo took credit for the demolitions.

Destroyed were some sheds that were designed to house construction workers and some waist-high block walls.

A statement from the association said that the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz has never disclosed the name of the investor who was involved in the project. A private contractor arrived on the site last month.
The association is calling the 6,000 square meters Parque Independencia, although the land is designated as more of a greenbelt. A stop-work order was issued three weeks ago, but some 50 association members, supporters and even their children decided to take matters into their own hands Saturday.

The construction also violated an agreement between the association and the municipality to supervise the area, according to the association.

The construction was designed to be storefronts, said the association.

The land is designated as open space under the plan regulador or zoning plan for the area, the association said. To change the use, the municipality would have to make formal applications to central government officials, something the association said was not done.

Concept of 'restorative justice' is core of law enforcement congress
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guess who said this:

"Costa Rica is passing through a crisis of violence. Day after day we are told of events of a violent character in our communities, schools, homes and workplaces.  The system of justice can't continue to respond adequately before the increase in complaints and our prisons are completely crammed. This increase in  violence does not appear to be diminishing."

If you guessed a disaffected North American or a mugging victim, you would be wrong. The quote is from the lead item of the weekly bulletin of the Poder Judicial, the branch of government that runs the courts.

The bulletin said that officials are about to examine an international movement called  restorative justice. The Comisión Nacional para el Mejoramiento de la Administración de Justicia, universities, lawyers and prison officials have organized the first congress of restorative justice here in Costa Rica Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
A principal speaker will be Dan Van Ness, executive director of the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, a program of Prison Fellowship International.  He has been active in criminal justice issues for over 30 years, as a lawyer, advocate, writer and teacher, according to the Web site

A good definition comes from the Mennonite Central Committee in Canada, which says the object of restorative justice is to promote justice policies that recognize crime as harm against persons, and that suggest responses that are victim-sensitive, promote offender responsibility to make things as right as possible and engender community participation and support. Punishment is only part of the response that society ought to make, according to this theory.

A round table will be held Tuesday in the third floor of the Corte Suprema de Justicia at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the scene shifts to the Colegio de Abogados, also at 6 p.m. In addition other activities will be at the Ciudad Científica of the Universidad de Costa Rica, in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, on Wednesday and at the  Universidad La Salle, Sabana Sur, Thursday at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 110

Alan Garcia takes presidency of Péru in landslide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

LIMA, Perú — More than 11 million Peruvians went to the polls Sunday and elected  former president Alan Garcia Pérez by what appears to be a landslide.

His opponent in the second round of presidential voting, Ollanta Humala Tasso of Unión por El Perú, conceded and said he recognized the victory of his opponent.

The preliminary totals released by the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales said 77.33 percent of the vote had been counted.

Garcia had 5,750,148 or 55.46 percent to Humala's 4,618,301 or 44.54 percent. A statistical projection by Transparency International gave Garcia 52 percent of the total vote, still sufficient to outdistance his rival.

The election was uneventful, and both candidates thanked the army and the national police for maintaining order.

Garcia's first term as president of Perú ran from 1985 to 1990. It ended with the Peruvian economy in shambles. He assured voters that he learned from his mistakes and would not repeat them. His current term runs until 2011.

Humala, a nationalistic ex-army officer, won the initial round of voting in April. Analysts have said his campaign may have been hurt by the endorsement of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Both Garcia and Humala are seen as populist candidates of the left, but their campaigns have sought to emphasize the differences.

Garcia has rejected the economic policies of his challenger, saying Humala plans radical changes, including the takeover of key industries. He also recalled a failed military uprising led by Humala in 2000. In turn, the former military official pointed to Garcia's earlier term in office, which is blamed for triggering high inflation and an economic crisis in the late 1980s.

The Organization of American States called on both sides to soften the rhetoric.  But, the sentiments have already come to dominate the minds of many voters, says Ian Vasquez, director of the Global Economic Liberty project for the Cato Institute in Washington.

"Sometimes that happens when you have a political system that chooses among so many different candidates, the candidates that many people don't want end up being the leading candidates," he said before the voting.  "And that's one of the comments that Peruvians are making right now, 'how did we end up with the two worst candidates in a run-off?'"

Some reports allege that Venezuela's government helped finance the Humala campaign.

Partido Aprista Peruano photo
Alan Garcia during a campaign stop

It would not be the first time that Hugo Chávez has taken a major role in another country's elections. Last year, he was credited with helping Evo Morales win the presidency in Bolivia. Pablo Galarce, Latin America director for the International Foundation for Election Systems in Washington, says the result in Peru has been quite the opposite.

"Some of the reporting that is coming out about what President Hugo Chávez has said regarding Alan Garcia has not really been helpful," he said.  "I think, surely, Mr. Alan Garcia was able to use the declarations from Hugo Chávez, and use them in his favor. Peruvians are quite, quite nationalistic."

One of the key issues in the election was economic policy. Humala has tried to appeal to Peru's indigenous and poor communities, and has criticized a recent free trade agreement signed with the United States. Garcia supports the trade deal, and has promised to continue many of the economic policies of outgoing President Alejandro Toledo. But voters say they are unsure if they can trust Garcia, when he claims to have learned from the economic mistakes of his earlier term.

U.N. agency downplays flu role of migrating birds
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ROME, Italy — Officials at a U.N. sponsored scientific meeting here have downplayed the role of migrating birds as the major source for the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus.

Juan Lubroth heads the infectious disease group for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. He says human activity presents a far greater risk.

"Commercialization, the way we produce our animals, the way we market, the way we do not have the proper hygiene or inspection," he said. "It is through the poultry trade, not so much the wild birds."

Strategies like monitoring poultry flocks and vaccinating the birds can help target the virus at its source and slow down its spread, according to Christiane Bruschke with the World Organization for Animal Health."We need to increase sanitary measures," she said. "We need to increase bio-security. We still need to kill infected animals, but certainly vaccination can be a good tool in different circumstances."
Since 2003, when it was first identified, the deadly virus has moved from Asia to countries in Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East, and is responsible for the deaths of more than 200 million birds. The virus has infected 224 people in 10 countries, largely through contact with infected poultry.

Food and Agriculture veterinary officer Joseph Domenech says outbreaks in Africa are the most worrisome because of the region's inability to respond in a timely manner. "It takes time to react, to respond," he says. "It took two months in Nigeria, for example, and by that time the virus is spreading all over the country. He says the situation is related to the difficulty of the veterinary services and animal health surveillance systems to cope with the situation and to respond immediately.

"That's why there is a need for a huge investment to support these systems."

The Food and Agricultural Organization estimates it will need approximately $308 million over the next three years to control the virus. So far the organization has received just $71 million in funding.

Police net trio who are suspects in armed robbery in Heredia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men held up a money store in downtown Heredia Sunday, but police were able to capture one suspect near the site of the robbery. Two more suspects were captured as they drove a vehicle
near La Sabana Park a short time later. Two handguns were confiscated.

Some 400,000 colons (about $780) were taken from the store that specializes in sending money to Nicaragua.

Jo Stuart
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