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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, June 10, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 113       E-mail us
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Land theft cases add stress to some expats' lifestyle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Under the warm tropical sun near Playa Herradura on the central Pacific coast, two decades of lawlessness have flourished mostly ignored by officials elsewhere.

This is the tradition of physically invading property and trying to steal it by occupying the tract.

The area around Herradura, which is near Jacó, is particularly vulnerable because 20 years ago a developer was selling off five-hectare tracts mostly to North Americans. Buyers were promised that they could lead a quiet life on their 12-plus acres amid the mangos and palms. Instead, those who still are there or who have taken over from the original buyers are in the middle of long-running nightmares.

The situation is complicated because Costa Rican law allows landless individuals to invade unused land and occupy it. In the case of Herradura, the potential value of the land encourages locals and their friends to try to snatch rights to the property from the registered owners.

The situation has generated years of confrontation, mostly with the squatters and police executing an order of a judge. Residents say a brutal attack happened last week when at least 30 persons invaded fenced land occupied by a North American, attacked his guards, injured the owner and might have killed him had police not arrived eventually. The man's home was sacked, his neighbors said, adding that some participants in the melee may have been shot.

The owner is reported either in hiding or in the hospital with a broken shoulder and machete injuries.

This is the same parcel, No. 5, where police evicted some 54 families in June 2007. Fuerza Pública officers came from San José and Puntarenas, and the Unidad de Intervención Policial and the Unidad Especial de Apoyo, both tactical-type squads, participated. Local police frequently are timid about confronting their neighbors.

In fact, one expat who owns property in the area said that his five-year court case was moved from Jacó to Puntarenas over security concerns. Judges have to go home at night, too.

The expat won his case, but the squatters have now appealed. He says the major problem with Costa Rican law is that such cases can drag on for years and the squatters know it, maintaining possession of lands the whole time.

Lawyers involved with the expats point out that the squatters are not simply landless agricultural workers. Some are professionals from San José who seek a vacation home or an investment. One home squatters constructed on Parcel 5 was valued conservatively at 15 million colons, about $40,000, at the time.

In addition, some wealthy Central Valley residents have been known to buy the rights of squatters and institute legal actions to claim the land. In one case, the squatter got around $350,000. The trail of some transactions leads into the offices of the country's rich and powerful.

Another expat with a squatter case in the courts
eviction
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Families evicted by police from Parcel 5 in 2007 watch as police put up plastic tape at entrance.

said that his actions have been hampered by false documents, illegal property transfers and other illegal actions that may result in criminal cases if he wins.

In fact, invading a land by force is a delito called usurpación. The jail term is from six months to three years upon conviction. The squatters do not have to worry because Costa Rica courts usually extend conditional freedom for prison penalties of three years or under. So the risks are minimal and the rewards can be significant.

The 72 five-hectare parcels that comprise the disputed Herradura land is not far from upscale Los Sueños resort.

A British expat said a well-placed San José businessman purchased the rights from a man who was living on his land and then served court papers on the owner, a Panamá corporation. The owner said that the businessman expected his court filing to be unanswered. Instead part of the story was picked up by a U.S. magazine because of the businessman's international prominence. Defamation laws are less stringent in the United States, and court files here are not open to the public.

The tradition of stealing foreigners' properties with fake legal documents is long established. The Registro Nacional blindly accepts any document that a notary has validated. More than one North American has won a property case by showing that he or she was not even in the country when the presumed transaction took place. The passport stamps are a valuable aid.

The usual scofflaw in such cases is a fake power of attorney that gives a third party the right to sell the land. The addition of physical force by machete-bearing land invaders adds a new dimension to wholesale property theft.

The expats contacted for this story were reluctant to be named. Fear is a strong emotion among those who are fighting the squatters. They hire guards. They seek police assistance to enter their captured properties.  They all report that such land invasions are well organized and well managed, perhaps with individuals who are trained for their roles. They also do not want to upset their court cases.

A property owner is supposed to get police help for a simple eviction if a home invader has not set up shop on the land for more than a month. After that the case goes to the civil courts where progress is at a snail's pace.

The expats agree that another approach is needed so that public officials can enforce ownership rights.


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Country hosts 6,777 species,
university book reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Universidad de Costa Rica scientists have concluded that Costa Rica hosts 3.5 percent of the known marine species.

The two university scientists have published a book in Spanish about the nation's maritime biodiversity. They cataloged 6,777 species. The book introduction is written by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, according to Casa Presidencial.

The 500-page book represents the work of more than 50 scientists.

In the introduction Arias noted that the country has an expanse of ocean 10 times that of its land area. He also lamented the danger that some marine creatures face.

Police scatter vendors
around Alajuela market


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública and the Alajuela municipal police cracked down on street vendors Tuesday, in part because merchants who have regular locations and pay taxes complained.

Immigration authorities with them detained three persons who did not carry documents. Each is known as a vendor in the vicinity of the municipal central market. Two are minors.

Saturday some of the vendors blocked entry to the central market building and threw objects at municipal police who were trying to get them off the streets. That was the action that caused the sweep Tuesday.

Vendors said that they want the municipality to find a place where they can sell.

Child burned by gasoline
could not receive help


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A father in the high Talamancas tried in vane to find help for his 2-year-old daughter who was burned badly in a gasoline explosion Sunday morning. But the area near Bajo Blake de  Telire is a 12-hour hike from any help. The girl died three hours after being burned, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents had to take a helicopter to reach the site Tuesday. They took the tot's body to the organization's medical examiner in Heredia. The area is in the mountains of the central part of southern Costa Rica.

Our reader's response
All expats are not from U.S.
despite emphasis in media


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read your article on stricter banking rules with interest. When you refer to "expats" and tax laws, we assume you are talking about U.S. expats? Since we are Canadian and British citizens with absolutely no connection in any way with the U.S., are we also included under your definition of "expats" and the new rules apply to them as well?

We have nothing whatsoever to do with U.S. taxes or the Internal Revenue Service and certainly do not want them nosing around our business.  As non-U.S. expats, we get a little tired and rather annoyed that the Costa Rican media seems to focus on U.S. citizens and their problems as if the rest of us expats do not exist.

Are the Canadian, British and other governments also requesting transparency of their citizens or is it just the U.S.? Perhaps a clarification is in order.
Tessa Borner
Grecia

EDITOR'S NOTE: We tend to emphasize what is familiar, so our apologies to the non-U.S. expats. Financial transparency is a worldwide issue that has the support of nearly every government so it might affect non-U.S. expats.
 
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 113

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Transport crews get some practice as hurricane season begins
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials are working to open up the route to several communities that have been isolated in the Tayutic de Turrialba section due to heavy overnight thundershowers late Monday and early Tuesday.

The rain flooded a watercourse that damaged a bridge on national Ruta 414 between La Suiza and Grano de Oro. There also were slides reported in the area.

Officials of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the rushing waters covered the bridge with sediment, rocks and trees so that they still are not sure if there is any serious damage.

There does not appear to be a significant chance of heavy rain today because the Instituto Meteorológico is reporting stable air over the whole country. What afternoon rains that do develop will be weak, the forecast said.

Meanwhile highway officials and the national emergency commission are getting their supplies in order for when the heavy rains do hit. There was a taste in Limón last month, but the Atlantic hurricane season is just beginning.

Proposed flood avoidance work along the Caribbean coast is not scheduled to start until December when the hurricane season is over.
The U.S. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center said that there is a 50 percent chance of a normal season, although global weather patterns are imposing a greater uncertainty than in past years. The forecasters said there is a 70 percent chance of from nine to 14 named storms and that four to seven of these could become hurricanes. They also predicted from one to three major storms of the category 3, 4 or 5 variety.

Although hurricanes do not hit Costa Rica, the backlash and the long arms of destructive wind and rain can cause heavy damage here.

The first threat of the year will be called Ana, forecasters say. That is a weather system with sustained winds of 39 mph or greater. At 74 mph the system becomes a storm and a hurricane at 111 mph. The U.S. forecasters will revise and issue a new report in August at the presumed peak of the hurricane season.

It was the first storm last year that exacted heavy damage and caused flooding in the central Pacific and Guanacaste.  That was Alma, which remained a tropical storm. That storm hit in June and trapped up to 1,000 persons between slides on the Interamerican highway. It also caused deaths and serious damage in at least 40 locations in the country.

As of now there are no areas of likely storm conditions in the Atlantic as far away as the African coast.


An analysis of the news
Rafael Calderón may be down — but he is not out yet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In informal discussions with Costa Rican voters, former president Rafael Ángel Calderón emerges as a strong presidential candidate.

Calderón is on trial now for receiving a substantial commission from a $39 million purchase of hospital equipment by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Nevertheless, Laura Chinchilla, the Partido Liberación Nacional nominee, is perceived as a continuation of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. That is no surprise because Ms. Chinchilla has made no effort to distance herself from the administration in which she served as a vice president.

Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana is seen by some Central Valley Costa Ricans as making his third unsuccessful run for president. He nearly beat Arias in a runoff in 2006 because the free trade treaty was a major issue. That battle seems to have been forgotten by most voters.

Depending on what happens at the trial, Calderón would run on the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana ticket. Despite
his embarrassing legal entanglements, he still has many  supporters, and Unidad has failed to come up with another viable candidate.

The Costa Ricans who discussed the issue said that Calderón is seen as a much more experienced individual because he served four years as president. And he is seen to be more pro-business.

Ms. Chinchilla carries some baggage from her vice presidency. A committee she headed produced legislative bills to enhance citizen security that seemed to be lacking. She also initiated the plan to close down casinos for 10 hours a day on the pretext of reducing prostitution. That cost a number of young Costa Ricans their jobs and did nothing about the many massage parlors and houses where prostitution actually flourishes.

In fact some expats even wonder why she is taking aim at a legal occupation.

The idea that she is riding on the shoulders of Arias is something she will need to eliminate if she is to attract votes from the groups that are cool to the president. More will be known when all the candidates formally present their election platforms by August or September.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 113


Calderón appears to be making progress against cartels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

This past weekend, gun battles between federal forces and drug cartel gunmen in Mexico claimed more than 20 lives. One of the bloodiest incidents occurred in the resort city of Acapulco, where soldiers killed 16 gunmen. But there are signs that the government is making progress in its war against organized crime.

Saturday night in Acapulco was livelier than usual, with gunshots and grenade blasts echoing through the streets near beachside hotels. The news reports are likely to further crimp Mexican tourism, already in a downturn after the emergence of the swine influenza virus in Mexico in April.

But many Mexicans are hailing the fire fight in Acapulco as a victory for the cause of law and order since the soldiers defeated the drug gangsters, losing only two of their own, even though the criminals used automatic weapons and lobbed as many as 50 grenades at the soldiers.

Such victories politically benefit President Felipe Calderón, who declared war on the drug cartels shortly after he came to office in December 2006.

One of the top U.S. experts on Mexico, William Grayson at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, says Mexicans strongly support Calderon's fight against the criminal gangs.

"Calderon's public approval [rating] is now at 69 percent — the highest of his administration because the people perceive that he is a decent man that handled the swine flu outbreak judiciously and that he is doing his level best to combat the narco-traffickers," he said.

Grayson says this bodes well for Calderón and the ruling Partido Acción Nacional or PAN in the July 5 mid-term elections.
"What Calderón and the PAN have very astutely done is focus attention on his war against drugs. And in so doing, they have diverted people's minds from the incredibly harsh economic conditions that beset the country," he said. 

Grayson says Mexico's gross domestic product is likely to drop 5.5 percent this year due to the flu scare, the worldwide recession and declining production from Mexico's oil fields. But he says Calderón has bolstered the nation's confidence and pride by taking on the criminal gangs and the corrupt officials who have allowed them to flourish.

He said he was impressed that last month there was a police action in Michoacan in which 10 mayors and 17 so-called public officials were arrested and that there was not even the hint of a leak before that operation was carried out.

Grayson says that while Calderon's campaign against the powerful drug lords is a necessary effort to protect the nation from criminal enterprises, it will not end narcotics trafficking.

"You really cannot win a war against these incredibly powerful, brutal, enormously wealthy cartels — either in the United States or in Mexico. The best you can hope is to manage the hostilities and try to minimize the number of civilians who die," he said.

What Calderón may be able to accomplish, in Grayson's view, is substantial reform of Mexico's police and judicial system so that the public will have more confidence in its law enforcement system and be more willing to cooperate with authorities.

He says drug smugglers will always be around, but that the government may have a chance to substantially reduce their power and their threat to public safety.


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A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Winemakers rejoice at rule
to keep rosé and art form


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

French, Spanish and Italian winemakers are thanking the European Union agriculture chief for scrapping plans that would have allowed wineries to label blended red and white wines as rosé.

The European winemakers use a different, traditional method to make their roses, and they say the proposed EU changes would have deceived customers.  

They contend that simply adding red wine to white wine to make rose would turn winemaking into an industry instead of a skill, and put thousands of people out of work.

The EU agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, announced Monday she was withdrawing the proposed new rule on blended rosé in order to protect the image of traditional quality rose wine.

Quality rosé is generally made from dark-skinned grapes that otherwise would be used for white-wine production.  The uncolored juice from crushed grapes is allowed to remain in contact with the grape skins and seeds for a time, and even before fermentation it acquires the characteristic pale pink tinge of classic rosé wine.

Winemakers in Spain, Italy and France say their counterparts in some other countries blend red and white wines and call them rosé.   The EU's rules about rosé wine apply only to wine produced in the European Union, so there are no restrictions on sales of wine from other countries, however it is made.

TB bacteria may form
spores that hibernate


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Swedish researchers say they may have figured out how tuberculosis hibernates in humans, becoming active only long after the original infection. The latent form of TB is carried by an estimated one-third of the world's population, and most people never get sick.  It appears TB may form inactive spores which suddenly spring to life in some individuals.

Every year, 10 million new cases of tuberculosis are diagnosed around the world and 2 to 3 million people die of the lung disease.  Many of them have been infected with a latent form of the tuberculosis bacteria that can become active and cause the illness. But many others are infected without ever getting sick. Scientists have been trying to figure out why.

In new research, scientists at Sweden's Uppsala University found evidence that a relative of the tuberculosis bacteria, called mycobacterium marinum, that causes tuberculosis in fish forms hibernating spores when scientists cultured the microorganism in the laboratory. Another similar bacterium, which causes tuberculosis in cows but can also infect humans, also forms spores.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 113


Latin American news digest
Native leader in Perú
seeks Nicaraguan asylum


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Peruvian Indian leader has taken refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy after deadly protests last week over land usage rights.

Albert Pizango led protests that turned deadly Friday when police tried to break up a roadblock formed by thousands of native protesters carrying wooden spears.

Clashes also occurred Saturday as police stormed a remote Amazon oil facility Saturday to free 38 officers held by the demonstrators.

At least 22 police and 30 Indians were killed in the violence.

Peru's prime minister, Yehude Simon, says Pizango, who is wanted on charges of sedition for leading the protests, is asking Nicaragua for asylum.

Peruvian state radio reported Nicaraguan officials will make a decision on the request Tuesday.

Native Peruvians have been blocking roads and waterways since April to demand the government repeal laws they say encourage foreign companies to open mines and drill for oil in the rain forest.

Last week's protests took place in an area of northern Peru known as Curva del Diablo or "Devil's Curve." Indigenous leaders say police shot at them from helicopters, but authorities say the police were attacked.

The unrest is the worst political violence in Peru since the Maoist rebel group, the Shining Path, battled the government in the 1980s and 1990s.

It also is the biggest crisis President Alan Garcia has faced in his term. Garcia's economic plans have spurred growth, but critics say little wealth is reaching the country's poorest populations.



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