A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, June 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 124        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Juan Rodríguez Fallas makes his daily rounds selling tables, and his inventory goes with him. He is one of a number of San José vendors without a permanent location.

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Tourism chief sounds alarm on visitor decline
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism minister said Thursday that the industry was in decline, and efforts must be doubled to avoid a plunge.

The minister, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, seemed to reject the idea of price cuts: "Costa Rica is an expensive destination, and we are not interested that it is sold as a cheap place of sun and beaches."

Benavides was appearing before the Comisión de Turismo of the Asamblea Legislativa where he was outlining the principal achievements, expectations and projections of the industry, the country's largest income producer.

Tourism brings in about 1.6 million visitors each year and about $1.6 billion, but only about a third are from North America. Many visitors from Nicaragua are classified as tourists. A significant number of North Americans, so-called perpetual tourists, renew their tourism visa four time a year so they can stay here.

Benavides said that the tourism decline stemmed from the grave problems of infrastructure, the continual conflict with the environment, the insecurity and the long process of approvals that face investors. By infrastructure, he meant the deteriorating
condition of the roads in the vicinity of major tourist attractions.

He said that the tourism sector should pressure the government for repairs of the national highways and for the creation of a proposed tourism police force.

He also said that the arrival of tourists via cruise ships was declining, too, and that there needs to be more coordination among government agencies to obtain better results next season.

Benavides defended his estimate that many tourism businesses are not paying the taxes that they should. "The numbers are clear. In 2005 almost 80 percent of the 1.2 million tourists who entered the country used a hotel room or a cabina to stay. This means that there ought to have come in to the coffers of the ICT some $16 million from this tax, but the reality is that only $7.5 million or less than 50 percent was collected." He used the initials of his agency, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The special tourism tax of 3 percent, over and above the 13 percent sales tax, is supposed to be used for promoting the country around the world. Tourism operators and hotel officials, through their associations, have disputed Benavides' claim about the short payments.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 124

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Venezuelan official here
for meeting with president

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A top official of the Venezuelan government is visiting President Óscar Arias Sánchez today, and the talk certainly will turn to petroleum.

The official is Alí Rodríguez Araque, who is the foreign minister in Caracas.

Rodríguez is here on what officials characterize as a working visit. He will have lunch today with ministers and meet later with Arias at the president's home in Rohrmoser.

Costa Rica is anxious to get low-cost petroleum from oil-rich Venezuela. The president there, Hugo Chávez, has been generous in providing cut-rate oil to Latin nations and even to the poor in the United States.

Panel formed to plan
future for reserve unit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister has set up a panel of 30 police experts to suggest a course for the Reserva de la Fuerza Pública.

The reserve force now has 362 members and may be activated only with the permission of the president.

The minister, Fernando Berrocal, said the 30 top policemen would "help to orient the work of the reserves."

The commission met for the first time Wednesday. The minister also presented the new chief of the reserves, Eduardo Alfaro Gallardo.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública received some bad press this month when a participant in a police raid turned out to be a civilian. The man had been photographed holding a pistol on some arrested individuals who were laying on the ground.

The man had attempted to enter the reserves but did not qualify, police said as they launched an investigation. When interviewed, the man said he was just asked to drive the officers to the site of the raid but decided to help when he thought the suspects would make a getaway.

A ministry release said that reserve officers carry identification and that they have the same training as regular members of the Fuerza Pública.

Country happy that
U.S. won't cut funds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is reported pleased at the news that the United States will not continue to suspend funds for those countries that recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the foreign minister, is president of an arm of the court. Elizabeth Odio Benito, a Costa Rican, is a judge of the International Criminal Tribunal. The country was a founder of the court in 2001.

Stagno's ministry characterized the reaction to the announcement from the United States.

The fund cutoff for Costa Rica was less than $1 million and does not affect anti-drug grants. It was economic support funds, the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said a year ago when the U.S. decision was announced.

Military officials said that the U.S. position was limiting the use of U.S. servicemen as trainers in Third World countries, leaving the door open for military of other nations.

The United States does not want its servicemen being tried by an international body for violation of human rights, which is why the country has opposed the international court.

Flag football tourney
takes place Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's fledgling flag football organization will hold a national tournament Saturday at Parque La Sabana adjacent to the Estadio Nacional.

The event is being organized by Flag Football Magazine, and the victorious team will advance to international play.

Jim Zimolka of Flag Football Magazine said that anyone who wants to play will be accommodated. He can be reached at 373-8720.

Clarinetist will be featured

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquestra Sinfónica Juvenil will feature Gabriel Campos Zamora on the clarinet when they present a concert Saturday at 7 p. m., Teatro Popular Melico Salazar in downtown San José. Admission is 1,500 colons or slightly less than $3.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 124

A Tico home stay can make you less tongue-tied
Some visitors to Costa Rica come to learn Spanish and experience what it is like to live with a Costa Rican family.  I did that when I first arrived — and did some things the hard way.  So I have asked my favorite informant on Costa Rican life, Anabel, for some advice for others.  Anabel works for a San José language school.  But there are schools and host families in many parts of Costa Rica.

Schools will offer different amenities along with Spanish.  Some have dancing and cooking lessons or have connections with tour agencies and can arrange discounted tours for their students. 

I think it is the homestay with a family that can cause more apprehension and questions from first-time students.  Some families may accept students because of the money (the cost to the student is usually under $20 per week which includes a private room, two meals a day, laundry, and a shared bath).  But many families want the experience.  Usually the homes are close enough to the school to require only a short bus ride. 

Of course, the student is going to get a taste of Costa Rican cooking as well.  If you are a vegetarian, be sure to let the school and family know that.  If you have allergies or special needs, inform them beforehand.  You will probably get lots of fruits and vegetables, which are plentiful here, rice and beans, chicken, too, but not much beef (because it is expensive) or much fish (because many Costa Rican families are not that accustomed to eating fish). If you find you really want a steak dinner (steak is not usually great here) or fish, you can buy some and ask the woman of the house to prepare it. You might ask first.

You can ask that you be the only foreign student in the house so that you do not find yourself speaking your native language with someone from your own country.

Double rooms are available for couples.  Speaking for her own school, Anabel said that gay couples are also welcome.

And now for a bit of advice: It is a nice gesture to bring your host family a small gift — usually something that bespeaks your part of the world, perhaps a jar of special jam, or a decorative plate or figurine (Costa Ricans seem to like them).  Or, if you can’t think of anything else, a box of good chocolates is always welcome.  Of course, don’t bring fresh fruit or food.

Remember, Tica mothers are very motherly and will be concerned about you.  She will probably ask you what you want for breakfast. Here it is often gallo pinto (rice and beans) with an egg.  You may become addicted to that.  If you are not going to be home for dinner or will be late, let her know.  You may receive a key to the house.  You may not.

For yourself, bring a towel, to use both while with the family and if you go to the beach.  Bring an umbrella. It is useful for both sun and rain. And insect repellant for the beach.  I find very few flies
or mosquitos in the city. Don’t forget your
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

 prescriptions.  You can probably get them refilled here at a drug store (farmacia) for less than you can at home. 

Have a copy of your passport and carry that with you. Put your passport in a safe place.  If you plan to do a bit of traveling, a backpack can be useful.  But be very careful and alert at bus stations.  After dark, take a taxi, and only a taxi that has the yellow triangle on the door with I.D. number.  There are pirate taxis, some of them even red. Some have reputable drivers just trying to make a dishonest living, but others can be dangerous.

Home stays are usually for a minimum of a week — seven days.  You can stay on after your classes are over by making arrangements with the family.  For room and board, they are probably the best deal in town.  My first home stay was disastrous, but once the school moved me, I could not have been happier with my room and private bath and the delicious food my host mother prepared.  So, if you are not happy where you are, speak up!  A good school will move you with little fuss.

So enjoy your stay, don’t neglect your studies, and between the family you stay with and the students you meet from other parts of the world, you may make some lasting friends.

More resources sought for fight against drugs here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The director of the Judicial Investigating Organization wants a special group of judges to be on call 24 hours a day to authorize telephone taps in drug investigations.

That was one of the requests that the director, Jorge Rojas Vargas, brought to a special legislative narcotrafficking commission Thursday.

In addition he said his organization, which is part of the courts, needs more money and more agents.

Rojas said that now there is but one judge who can authorize a wiretap, and he is frequently tied up with other judicial duties. He called for a Centro de Intervención de las Comunicaciones within the Poder Judicial.
For investigations now there are but two agents and one vehicle in each zone involved in narcotics investigations, he said. this in a county which is an international bridge for drug trafficking and where 10 percent of the drugs stay in the country, he added.

Two agents are not sufficient in places like the Provincia de Limón or on the Pacific coast where drug traffic is high. he said.

Rojas also said that more money was needed for informants who frequently have to live in their same neighborhood after turning in a drug dealer. Also needed, he said were job opportunities for those who might be in the drug trade.

When a dealer is arrested, his family takes over the business, he said, because they have few other economic options.

Suspect in Wednesday home invasion set free, television report says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday police arrested a man with a long court record after two women were attack in their own home by an intruder.

The action took place about noon in Y Griega en San Francisco de Dos Ríos on the south side of San José.

Two women, 82 and 53, were inside the home when the man made known his presence. Both women suffered injuries to their arms and faces. Police said they were hit by the robber. The older woman was punched in the face and the 53-year-old woman suffered a knife wound to the arm.

The suspect was identified by his last names of  Flores
Corella and is 34 years of age, said Fuerza Pública officers at the time. They said the man has been in prison 20 times, mostly for aggravated robbery in which violence was used, police said. They also said he was suspected of sticking up motorists as they stopped at traffic signals and stealing their cars.

Several readers wrote A.M. Costa Rica to ask why the man was not put in jail a long time ago.

Well, he is back on the street, according to Channel 7 Teletica. The fact could not be confirmed independently. However, the television station said that the man was freed about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

The Poder Judicial has given no information on the case.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 23, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 124

Two-week session at U.S. will assess light arms trade
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Every two minutes worldwide someone is killed by an illegally traded rifle or other small weapon.  These deaths occur not only in conflict-plagued nations, but are tied to organized crime, drug trafficking, suicides and gun accidents, and account for far more deaths than those generated by heavier combat weapons, according to the United Nations.

From Monday to July 7, U.N. member nations and non-governmental organizations will gather to assess progress made in fighting and eliminating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons since a program of action to curb trafficking was adopted in 2001.

That plan focuses on practical solutions such as collecting and destroying illegal weapons, strengthening import and export controls, raising awareness of the effect of these weapons, improving security at weapons storage facilities and helping countries track down arms brokers and illegal arms transfers.

"First and foremost the conference is about eliminating illegal small arms in order to save more lives," said Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, who will chair the Small Arms Review Conference.

"Small arms fuel conflicts and support activities of groups involved in organized crime and trafficking drugs and people," Kariyawasam said.  In the 1990s, some 47 of 49 major conflicts involved the use of small arms and light weapons, he said, and most of those conflicts “were exacerbated by the accessibility of illegally traded and trafficked small arms."

During the two-week conference, the United States will work to strengthen the 2001 program by focusing on transfer controls and end-use certifications.
Since the 2001 conference, more than 50 countries have strengthened national legislation to control trade in small arms and more than 60 countries have collected and destroyed large numbers of illegal small arms, the Sri Lankan ambassador said.  Progress has been made, but much more needs to be done, he said.

"The conference,” Kariyawasam said, ”offers an opportunity for all countries to review their pledges to get rid of illegal trade in small arms and, for this purpose, to develop a strategy for further implementation of the program of action agreed [to] in 2001."

He emphasized that the conference will not attempt to
ban the legal use of firearms, but only focus on illegal trade and trafficking.  It will not be a forum for negotiating a treaty to prohibit citizens of any country from possessing firearms, or to interfere in legal trade in small arms and light weapons, the ambassador said. Nor, he added, will the conference suggest any regulations against legal positions by nations.

The Óscar Arias foundation and the president himself are promoting an international treaty on the commerce of firearms.

Some 40 countries, including Costa Rica, support the treaty. Arias said he would make support for the treaty a policy of his government.

The foundation is the Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano. The treaty was drawn up by Arias and seven other Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The treaty would require signatory states to take a bigger role in supervising the traffic of arms and prohibit the transfer of weapons when they would be used to break international agreements or to violate human rights.

Our readers respond to our stories this week
Act as if you were a guest
to avoid stepping on toes

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

We have read with interest the recent articles about theft in Coco and the real estate markets. I agree with the writer who said many North Americans bring troubles in both of these areas on themselves. We visited Coco, CR for a week recently. We had a wonderful time. We found the people friendly, warm and helpful. We have also found the people of Europe, friendly, warm and helpful. (Even in Paris.) How is that?

Well, we consider ourselves guests in these places. And, as such we try to blend in, speak at least a few words of the native language and generally attempt to find out the customs and adhere to them, where possible. We try not to be loud, obnoxious and demanding. All the while, we attempted to protect ourselves against theft or danger in much the same way we would in the States — through vigilance and care.

Should we elect to invest in property in Costa Rica, we would do so, attempting to find value and observing good investment strategy — avoiding mortgaging our future for a possible quick gain. We would probably invest, hoping for a future vacation home or perhaps even a retirement home. Our strong hope would be to invest in the local economy in such a manner as to benefit both ourselves and the local inhabitants. I hope the Costa Ricans are able to benefit from land and real estate booms. If they don’t, eventually, strong feelings will surface — and why not? Good deals are said to always benefit both parties. North Americans in Costa Rica is no exception to that axiom. Please, folks. Behave as if you were a guest in someone else’s home. It sure makes life easier for those who follow you.

Finally, to the Ticos. Make your soccer team feel welcome home! They gave us real enjoyment watching them with the locals. Breakfast and soccer is my idea of the way to start the day. Sure, we’d like to have seen a win. Maybe next time. I expect they’re more disappointed than anyone. They had a tough draw. (Germany is playing as well as anyone in the tournament.) And, they played well — just needed a break here or there. No thrown tomatoes from us. Thanks guys.

Phil Hoskins
Fort Worth, Texas

Broker in Jacó says
he's really not leaving

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Well I think I was either too sarcastic or not sarcastic enough since I received a lot of e-mails today asking if I was really leaving Costa Rica after 13.5 mostly glorious years (in my response to Garland Baker’s article of June 20th,)  Would you be so kind as to publish another letter from me.

I will admit that I am a real estate broker (now, Costa Rica Beach Investment Real Estate), 9 years in the business, mostly in San Jose, but the past few years in Tamarindo and Jacó.  I moved from Tamarindo for a number of reasons, but mostly because as a full-time resident, life is much easier when the big city essentials are less than 2 hours away and not 6.

My analysis of Costa Rican real estate BEACH prices is determined by what has happened to other international beach hotspots, enduring various boom-bust cycles.  What determines fair market value in any situation is to check “comps” (comparables) and in this case, those beach communities that can offer to the North American retiree/adventurer a place to purchase for investment, rental income, or a new way of life.

Without delving into lifestyle issues and comfort zones found for the typical N. American seeker, we must first start with travel time from the United States/Canada.

Obviously, the closest places are the Caribbean, (foreign residents subject to island fever) and Mexico, (personal safety issues and lack of 100 percent title).

We also have to rule out Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize, though each place has something unique to offer for a week or two, to live or invest in these countries for a long period can be perilous.

Nicaragua has been attracting more super adventurers as of late, but I have little respect for Nicaragua’s political smarts (oxymoron?). Panama is probably Costa Rica’s stiffest competition, but that’s still a secret, and it’s too damn hot.

So that leaves Costa Rica as the nearest, safest, easiest to adapt to foreign country closest to the United States for residents and investors alike.

How high can prices go you ask?  Go to google and type in Cancun or Puerto Vallarte beachfront condos for sale.

Try to compare condos that are not in towers that are 20 stories tall (I would prefer a building limitation of 7 stories here in Jaco!).  With Mexico, remember, no foreigner gets 100 percent ownership-fee simple title and Punta Cancun beachfront condos, are being offered between $480,000-$700,000.  Are Costa Rican beachfront condos with title worth the same amount or 30 percent less than Cancun?

One can play these games with google with Hawaii (much more expensive), the Caymans (bet there’s more former residents of the Caymans living here than the reverse) ad infinitum.

The point is that Costa Rica now enjoys a very favorable image within the United States, Canada, and Europe as both a place to live and as an investment opportunity. Of course buyers have to use their head. Booms come and go, as sometimes markets get saturated with product for a short time, but in a world renowned locale, prices are usually justified and will continue to rise, maybe not as quickly, but comparable to other places.

Just remember, this ecologically renowned little Switzerland of the Americas hasn’t yet come close to being as famous as other hotspots.  Invest now because prices will continue to rise, just don’t be stupid, check and compare.
Jeff Fisher
Reader pleads to halt
mining with mercury

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your articles about the Vanessa Ventures gold mine are very important to the future of Costa Rica.  Please help the citizens understand that once their river is poisoned by mercury, it can NEVER be corrected.  No matter how much money that this gold mining company has spent, is it worth the risk of permanent destruction to the surrounding environment.  No matter how many jobs are created (and those miners may be exposed directly to mercury poisoning), is this permanent destruction of the environment worth the cost?
The results of mercury poisoning are easily studied. Years ago I visited Poland just after the Communist left.  Poland was used as the toxic waste dumping grounds for the former Soviet Union.  Not only does mercury poison the immediate vicinity of the mine,  the nearby river can carry the mercury down stream poisoning all fish and wildlife in its path.

When I was in Poland I remember walking miles and miles of beach, maybe ten miles or more where there were signs every 50 meters stating “No Swimming Mercury Poisoning.”  I was told by residents there in Poland that there were many, many more miles of poisoned beaches and rivers.  Most important was the fact that they could not be saved.
In a country like Costa Rica where it rains so heavily the potential for nearby mercury contamination is extremely high.  And what if the mine is a bust and the company leaves? Who will pay for the cleanup of the land contaminated by the mercury?
What does this mercury pollution do?  It poisons most of the fish.  The surviving fish become the food source for the eagle, animals, and other predators, including humans.  The fish then poison everyone and everything that consume them. Children are the first to be affected.
Follow the path of this river downstream from the mine. Calculate the damage of potential lost habitat. PLEASE contact officials in Poland and ask them about the effects of mercury poisoning on their country.  Let the Costa Rican leaders know the true cost of mercury poisoning. The dangers far outweight the profits!
The normally passive Costa Rican citizens should pay attention to this danger. It is permanent.  Only one mistake by the mining company and the damage is done FOREVER.  Costa Rica presents itself to the world as an environmentally conscious nation. How can such a risk, which will profit so few people, be worth it to the nation?
Remember long ago that the Spaniards attempted to conquer the new world for God, Glory, and Gold — not necessarily in that order.  Greed for gold can do permanent damage in Costa Rica, damage that will never be corrected. Please help the citizens understand that they should not allow this project to continue.
I donated to the campaign of President Arias because he was presented as a man of peace and a protector of the environment.  Perhaps he is the one who must lead his country away from such risks.  He seems to be a great man.
John Maisel

He would leave if he could

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding the letter on June 22 from Manu Cron, Rohrmoser. I agree with him 100 percent about the responsibility of A.M. Costa Rica to report crime incidents.
The national pastime in this country is thievery and everyone should be informed about it especially those contemplating moving here.
I’ve lived here for over two years and will continue out of necessity since I can’t afford to retire in the U.S.A.  If I could I would be back there in a heartbeat.
Walter Bibb
San Pedro

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