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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, June 25, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 125        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Petroleum prices causing jitters
So far, so good, say concerned workers in tourism

By Elise Sonray and Jeremy Arias
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Mauricio Martínez, who has worked at a small hotel in Tamarindo for seven years, said he fears he may lose his job because as gasoline prices rise, fewer and fewer tourists filter into the beach town.

Worried hotel owners and employees around the country are talking about gas prices, taxes, and the future of tourism in Costa Rica. Many voiced their opinions Tuesday on the current situation and what the future may hold. No one however, seems to have a plan yet.

Martínez is not the only one worried about his job. Many of the employees who work in the tourism industry in Tamarindo are afraid, he said. “These last four months have been horrible,” said Martínez, who is an employee at the Mono Loco Hotel in Tamarindo.

With recent bad press in the area due to pollution and crime, along with raising taxes, the climbing gas prices are fatal for the industry, added Martínez. The year has been worse than any other in Tamarindo, said Johana Mendoza, a hotel receptionist at the Luna Llena, who has been in the area for six years.

Although workers at other hotels reported normal years and some even above average seasons, most agreed that they would have to raise their prices for the coming year. Higher utilities, gas prices and tax increases in some areas were all reasons for the mark up, said hotel representatives. And many are worried about the escalating petroleum prices.

Moraya Iacono, the manager at the Ylang Ylang in Montezuma said that although he has not yet seen much effect in this year's reservations, he is anxious about the coming season. “Especially as the manager and owner of the business, I'm definitely worried,” he said. Other locals share his concern, he added.

Just the fact of airfare going up and the fact that the price of travel is going up is a concern, he said. The hotel has been trying to cut costs as much as possible, he said.

Vinicio Hidalgo Rojas, a manager at the Capitan Suizo in Tamarindo, reported that the hotel was having a good year. Since the major clientèle are from the higher middle class, Hidalgo said he did not expect any decrease in guests.

The main prices that are rising are vegetables and packaged goods that are trucked in from San José he said. Since the gasoline is higher, these items are becoming expensive to bring in, he said.

In the Caribbean, Erich Strebe, a hotel owner in Puerto Viejo, reported an increase in guests this year, and although he said he's heard many customers complain about gas prices, his reservations for this year have not been affected,
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Gas price is the phantom clouding forecasts

he said. For July and August the hotel is almost full, said Strebe.

That doesn't mean that he hasn't worried about gas prices, though, said Strebe. The owners expected a decrease in guests due to rising gas prices, said Strebe, but there has been no effect so far. If the airlines cut flights to Costa Rica, that will be a problem, he added. Some airlines have cut Latin American flights but not to Costa Rica.

Although most hotel representatives said they had not noticed a decrease from one specific country, a few said they had seen a slight increase in European customers due to the value of the euro and Canadian customers as well. Myra Peres of the Best Western in Jacó said, “Next year we have already some groups coming, and we're also trying to focus on the European market.”

Small hotels like the one which employees Martínez are getting hit the hardest right now, according to him. The Mono Loco only has about 13 rooms, he said. He said he expects next season to be lower still. “Things will keep getting worse unless we get together and do something about this as a national conscious,” he said.

Martínez, who said he does everything from gardening to chauffeuring at the small hotel, did not know if owners had any immediate plans, but said the workers have been talking amongst each other and they are scared. “Hardly anyone is coming in on bus and in taxis now,” he said, “we only have a few reservations for the coming months.”

President Óscar Arias Sanchez in what he says is an effort to help the poorer working class has asked lawmakers to remove the tax of diesel fuel and raise the tax on gasoline to compensate for the loss of revenue. Although this may favor bus lines and transport companies, tourists who rent vehicles will be paying more for fuel.

José Pablo Ramírez Vindas contributed to this report.

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Damage from two projects
$3.5 million, Tribunal says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workers at two projects on the central Pacific coast did $3.5 million damage to the environment, according to the Tribunal Ambiental. The administrative body said the irreversible damage at Hermosa Vista was $2.1 million and lesser damage at Costa Montaña some $1.3 million.

Both projects were frozen by environmental agents in March. The tribunal is part of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. It has been vigorous lately in inspecting developments and coastal areas for environmental violations.

The damage at Hermosa Vista was valued more because some 9.4 hectares (23 acres) of trees have been affected by the construction of roads and terraces, said the tribunal. This damage is incurable, said the report of Alexis Madrigal and Carlos Vinicio Cordero, both engineers for the ministry, said the tribunal.

In addition two waterways were covered by some 4,500 cubic meters (158,916 cubic feet) of soil removed for elsewhere in the project, said the tribunal. The waterways drain into the  Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Playa Hermosa-Punta Mala where marine turtles are protected, said the tribunal. Hermosa Vista contemplates the development of some 80 hectares (198 acres) with 46 terraces for houses and condominiums, said the tribunal.

The damage at Costa Montaña was less, said the tribunal. The project envisions developing 98 hectares (242 acres), but construction had only begun on 18 terraces for homes when the project was frozen, said the tribunal. Shortly after the Tribunal inspection Costa Montaña presented a mitigation plan that still is being studied, said the tribunal.

José Lino Chaves, president of the tribunal, said that inspectors intervened in time to prevent more damage at the project.

In a related situation, a lawyer for the Costa Montaña developers said that Jeffrey Martin Goldberg was not an owner of the firm. Goldberg was arrested in late May in Florida on four charges of racketeering and money laundering. At the time, an employee of the firm said that he was an owner. But the lawyer said this was not the case. Goldberg's charges stem from a gambling operation and not land development.

No quick compromise seen
at whaling talks in Chile

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Australia and Japan have traded barbs at the International Whaling Commission in Santiago, Chile. Japan accuses Australia of lacking the conviction to save crucial talks from "a state of collapse." Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett has fired back, insisting he will not compromise on the issue of whale conservation.

The challenge ahead of the International Whaling Commission is to get pro- and anti-whaling nations to find common ground.

But that could be tough. Several countries vow to not accept any loosening of the whale hunting ban, while Japan and a few other countries, such as Norway, say whale stocks have expanded enough to allow commercial hunting.

Garrett says Canberra must stand firm and condemn Japan's scientific whaling program. Garrett says that Australia will not sign any deal at the commission meeting that might lead to an end to the moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales.

"Australia hasn't come to this whaling commission to compromise at all," Garrett said. "We are absolutely strongly of the view that we do not want to see the commercial exploitation of whale populations. We are strongly of the view that this commission needs to focus on the science of conservation, not on the science of killing whales."

A spokesman for the Japanese delegation, Glenn Inwood, accuses the Australians of trying to derail critical talks.

"I think it's a huge miscalculation for the Australian minister to step straight off the plane and come here to this meeting with fresh demands when the rest of the IWC is trying to come up with an 11th hour solution to save it from collapse," he said.

Japan is lobbying for a return to commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986. Its delegation in Santiago has warned that without progress on this issue, it is difficult to see any future for the international commission. In the past, Japan has threatened to withdraw from the organization if it does not allow hunting.

The Australian government staunchly opposes Tokyo's annual whale harvest in the Antarctic. Canberra calls the hunt an unnecessary slaughter. Japan says its whaling fleet is conducting scientific research. At the start of the annual meeting this week in Santiago, the Chilean government proposed a permanent ban on whaling in the country's coastal waters.

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Milanes sticks to his part of agreement, judiciary reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Ángel Milanes Tamayo has complied with a judicial order to mortgage six properties in the metropolitan area in favor of the judiciary.

That was a condition for letting Milanes, accused of fraud, free Friday. The Poder Judicial said that a representative of Milanes showed up at the Juzgado Penal de San José Tuesday morning with the appropriate documents. The properties are believed to be worth about $12 million.

In the Friday court hearing the Ministerio Público, the independent prosecutorial agency, requested that this be done, and a judge agreed. The judiciary already has frozen a substantial amount of money that was in a Milanes account, it said.

Milanes came into the hands of law enforcement the previous day when he tried to take a TACA flight from El Salvador to Costa Rica. He is believed to have been
  negotiating long-distance a financial resolution to the allegations for several weeks previously.

The prosecutors on the case are about to file formal charges that would not only involve Milanes but about nine of his former associates, including a brother.

Under Costa Rican law a defendant can avoid charges if he or she can satisfy those who have filed complaints.

In the Milanes case the complainants could be as few as 250 because most of the original 2,200 or so investors in his failed Savings Unlimited never filed complaints or perfected their complaints by providing documentation. Many are outside Costa Rica because the clientèle was heavily North American.

At least two organized groups of creditors are working with prosecutors. Members of one group are clear that they are seeking a return of their funds and are not pressing for a Milanes conviction.

Two Costa Ricans who worked in States get a windfall
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Costa Rican men got their version of an incentive check from Uncle Sam Tuesday.

They were beneficiaries of a U.S. Department of Labor program and efforts by the Costa Rican Consulate in Los Angeles.  The checks went to Ademar Cordero Valverde of  Potrero Grande and Álvaro Castro Marín of San Isidro de Pérez Zeledón.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto issued a quick press release, in part because at least three other Costa Ricans are entitled to payments but have not been found.

The ministry said that the two men, both agricultural workers, had been planting trees in 2005 and 2006 in the United States along with other Latin Americans. The ministry was not specific on why the men got the money that had been deducted from their paychecks, but under U.S. law certain foreign, non-immigrant agricultural workers can get refunds for Social Security and Medicare taxes that they have paid.

Cordero got a check for $2,678.14. Castro got $1,521.42. Both said they would use the money to improve their own agricultural operations. They grow ayote, oranges and coffee.

The U.S. Labor Department has a program to alert foreign diplomats about the intricacies of U.S. law, in
farmer castro and check
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto photo
Álvaro Castro Marín with his windfall check

part to strengthen the Latin community in the Los Angeles area, said the ministry.

Of course the men will have to wait for a month before the check clears at the local government bank.

Casa Presidencial officials told to make second-floor access easier for disabled
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even the Casa Presidencial is not up to par with Costa Rican law, according to the decision released by the Sala IV constitutional court Tuesday.

The court announced that the wheelchair-access ramp leading to the second floor of the Casa Presidencial needs to be reconstructed so that persons with disabilities can have access to the grounds “without the assistance of others” according to the decision.
The decision stems from Costa Rican law Nº 7600, which deals with the “integration of people with disabilities into equal conditions of quality, opportunity, rights and duties as the rest of the population,” according to an Asamblea Legislativa de la República de Costa Rica outline of the law.

The ramp currently installed in the facility is too steep for easy use by persons using wheelchairs, and must be reconstructed in a timely fashion, the court decided. The order was issued by the court to the Presidencia.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 125

Tamarindo health standards improved, tourism chamber says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After an inspection, the health ministry reported that standards in Tamarindo businesses have improved by more than 300 percent since December, said a spokeswoman for the Guanacuaste chamber of tourism.

After nearly a year of bad press for the beach town, the Cámara de Turismo Guanacasteca announced that 81 percent of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and condominiums in Tamarindo abide by the requirements of the Ministerio de Salud.

The inspection analyzed food handling, physical infrastructure and buildings in handling sewage and waste water. Out of 120 locations, 97 were in compliance with the ministry's standards, said a spokeswoman for the
tourism chamber. A number of improvements have been made, according to the tourism spokeswoman.

During their first visit, health officials, identified only 31 establishments with physical and sanitary conditions suitable to operate. The “passing” group is composed of 24 sodas, bars and restaurants, 44 hotels and condominiums and 29 general shops.

There are actually 240 businesses registered in the tourist town, but officials concentrated on half of the market during this study, reported the chamber of tourism. The remaining businesses will be inspected soon in a permanent process soon to be initiated, said the spokeswoman.

An official from the chamber added that plans for building a sewage treatment plant in Tamarindo are in discussion.

Colombia postpones plans to resume ties to Ecuador and blames Correa
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia has postponed the scheduled restoration of diplomatic ties with Ecuador amid an ongoing dispute that erupted after Colombia staged a cross-border raid March 1 into its neighbor's territory.

Ecuador responded to the announcement by saying it may impose trade restrictions on Colombia.

The two countries were to have restored ties this week at the level of charges d'affaires, in a deal brokered by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Colombia, however, described recent comments by Ecuadorean President Rafael
Correa as offensive and delayed the move. Correa said in a recent interview that Colombia would have to fully explain the raid and that the bombs used were American. He said his country would be the one to set a timetable for re-establishing relations.

Colombia's raid into Ecuador killed a commander of Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.

Colombia says computer files found during the raid link Ecuador and Venezuela to the rebel terrorists, a charge both countries deny. The United States, Colombia and the European Union have designated the rebels as a terrorist organization.

Cuban scientists report that they have developed a vaccine for lung cancer
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban scientists have announced a new vaccine they say extends the lives of lung cancer patients up to five months.

Scientist Gisela Gonzalez said Tuesday in Havana that the product, called CimaVax EGF, is the first registered vaccine in the world designed to battle lung cancer. 
The researchers also said the vaccine is based on proteins that trigger an immune response from the patient's body and has no side effects.  Development of the vaccine began in 1992.

The Cuban researchers say the drug is undergoing clinical trials in other countries and is likely to be approved next in Peru.

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Press group urges investigation of attack on Mexican editor and blasts in Bolivia
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has voiced concern at the assault of a journalist in Mexico and attacks with explosives on radio and television stations in Bolivia. The organization called on the authorities of both countries to investigate the incidents immediately.

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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.

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Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the Miami, Florida, based organization's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, alerted officials to “the urgent need to ensure the safety of news media and individual journalists so they can comply with their duty to inform the news” and urged them to carry out an immediate investigation into the attacks and bring justice to bear on those responsible.

One of the incidents occurred Saturday afternoon of June 21 in Nayarit, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, when the assistant editor of the local newspaper, Noticias de la Bahía, Luis Pablo Guardado Negrete, was beaten and stabbed by two unidentified assailants in his office. He was taken to a hospital where he underwent surgery for a fractured jaw and is now recovering from his injuries.

According to local news reports two attackers entered the newspaper office and approached Guardado Negrete about a car for sale. In reality, they were angered by a sexual assault story the newspaper had published and were there to beat him up, stab and nearly strangle him. 

Earlier the same day in Bolivia, on the eve of a referendum on proposed regional autonomy, an explosive device was aimed at privately-owned television station Canal 4-Unitel in Yacuiba, in the southern province of Tarija. The blast damaged the main door and windows of the building but there were no injuries. A soldier and 11 civilians were later arrested in connection with the incident and charged with terrorism, unlawful assembly and possession of explosives.

The previous day in Potosí, in southwestern Bolivia, radio station Radio Kollasuyo was attacked with explosives, leaving two workers there injured and the front of the building badly damaged. There were also reports of assaults on local journalists.

Digital production firm
training flash pros here

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

AvVenta Worldwide, a digital production and interactive services firm, says it has formed a technology training partnership with the Costa Rican government.

The program is focused on the latest digital production technologies and aimed at recruiting and training new employees. This program will be incorporated into avVenta's in-house employee development program.

AvVenta training specialists, together with Costa Rican educators will administer all courses in flash design and other digital production technologies in the firm's three facilities in San José, said a press release. Recent graduates of Costa Rica's technical high schools will be given the opportunity to participate.  The project trains employees in skills that form the backbone for print and online advertising and a variety of related businesses, said the company.

An estimated 70 percent of the pilot program's first graduating class has secured jobs with avVenta, the company said. Ultimately, avVenta hopes to train up to 500 designers specializing in flash and other digital production applications by the end of the year and up to 1,000 by the end of 2009, it said.

AvVenta Worldwide recently opened a 45,000-square-foot facility that can accommodate 1,200 employees.

Privately held avVenta Worldwide specializes in digital production and interactive services.  The 3-year-old firm has more than 400 employees in offices in four countries. Headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, the company has international offices in Kiev, Ukraine, and London, England, in addition to San José.

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