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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, July 3, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 130       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Slope of land can kill projects
Big changes taking place in maritime rules

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There are some surprises in motion in the maritime zone.  Few people are aware of them today.  Foreign ownership restrictions are being challenged.  And the environmental ministry appears to be preventing development because it rules that some land is too steep.

So an investment into planning parcels for concession may be money wasted.

Called in Spanish the zona maritima terrestre in Costa Rica, the area contains two parts.  The first 50 meters inland measured from high tide is public land.  Except for some exclusions, where the land is titled or part of a special government program like the Papagayo Project in Guanacaste, all Costa Ricans own the public land.

Behind the 50 meters is 150 more meters also considered public. But it is land that can be controlled by private parties via a concession.  Municipalities and the Instituto Costarricnese de Turismo, or Costa Rica’s tourism board, manage the grant, theoretically for benefit of the public. 

Article 47 of the maritime zone law states only foreigners with permanent residency of more than five years and companies with a Costa Rican holding majority control can own a concession.  However, in practice foreigners have lost concessions based on the five-year rule because it conflicts with other rules and regulations.  Therefore, foreigners skirt the company ownership restriction by placing a puppet Costa Rican in ownership of more than 50 percent of the stock of a company applying to qualify.

This is dangerous.   When a puppet decides to take over, the courts have upheld the right to do so.  The Second Civil Appealing Court Decree No. 228 of June 18, 2001, states that articles 20 and 22 of the Civil Code condone no abuse and that any actions based on falsehoods are irreversible.

The first surprise:

The "El Boletín Judicial,” the court's official newspaper, reported June 15 that an Italian filed a constitutional court case against Article 47.  He is arguing the restrictions violate the equality of rights among persons under Article 33 of Costa Rica’s Constitution and various international agreements. In addition, the case states the restriction is unreasonable and xenophobic, creating a division based exclusively on the nationality of the petitioner. 

Anyone with a legitimate interest in this constitutional matter can attach themselves to the case as a coadyuvante or advocate by July 6.

A constitutional expert believes the Italian may win based on a 1998 constitutional case that voided the law restricting foreigners owning stock in pager and beeper services.

The second surprise:

Within the maritime zone where areas have been designated forest zones, Executive Decree Nº 31750- MINAE-TUR of April 22, 2004, established a new designation called the ZDE, or the zona de desarrollo ecoturístico, the ecotourism development zone.

An executive decree is a legally binding command or rule enacted by the executive branch of the government. The resultant conflict surrounding this decree has frozen

all concessions in the maritime zone
for the past two years.  Some people love rhis executive decision because they feel they are good for Costa Rica’s tourism growth. Others hate them because they believe it is anti-ecology.

Municipalities, the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía, and the tourism board have also had their internal, heated battles over the decree to decide who is the king of the roost over the maritime zone.

As the flames died down, MINAE, the environmental ministry, ultimately decides what is the ecotourism development zone and what is not.  In doing so, the agency is applying rigidly Section b of  Article 3 of the decree that states “No se permite la construcción de infraestructura en zonas que presenten pendientes superiores a las establecidas en el decreto Nº 27998 y 30763-MINAE.”  This translates into "construction of infrastructure is prohibited in areas with a slope more than established in Decree 27988 and 30763."  Even after studying the documents, the exact slope the article refers to is unclear but appears to be 40 percent.  It is also unclear if this is an average of the slope of a parcel.

This slope rule also existed in deforestation laws, abused flagrantly by loggers.  The environmental ministry apparently now believes multi-million dollar projects should be canned because they are going to be built on a hill with trees.

Concession approval has turned into a millionaire business for some bureaucrats who line their pockets.

In summary, there is good news and bad news for foreign investors applying for concessions in the maritime zone.   The good news is they may be able to do so legally without using a ruse.  The bad news is if they have already invested in expensive concession land on a hill they may be out mega bucks if the slope is too steep for environmental ministry approval.

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, July 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 130

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A.M. Costa Rica/George Perrochet
Looking more like Bagdad than the Nicoya Peninsula, the remains of a car destroyed in an April fire continue to rest alongside the Naranjo-Paquera road. A resident says officials have no apparent interest in the matter.

School children on break
for mid-year vacation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those happy faces you see are public school youngsters on their two-week mid-year break.

Many private schools follow the public school calendar.

Friday was the last day of class until July 17. And that was not a full day of studies. Students marked the execution of Indian leader Pablo Presbere, who died July 4, 1710, in Cartago.

Because the day fell within the vacation, it was commemorated Friday.  Presbere led the Talamanca Indians in their battle against Spanish expansion until he was captured in an ambush.

The mid-term school break is a good time for tourism operators because many families travel to the beaches, lakes and mountains during this period.

The next holiday is July 25 marking the vote when the citizens of Guanacaste via the Partido de Nicoya, voted to join Costa Rica 182 years ago.

The school term ends Dec. 20.

Northern zone suffers
from heavy downpours

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Much of the Central Valley enjoyed a dry weekend, but  those in and around Sarapiquí in the northern zone are trying to get back to normal.

Rivers in the Sarapiquí area are high but most of the 250 persons who sought shelter Friday have returned to their homes, officials said.

In Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí there was no water fit for drinking because a high river carried away the potable water lines. Some wells in the area were flooded out, too.

Highway 250 in Pital de San Carlos was cut by slides, officials said. It was closed for a time.

In the San Carlos area, 12 bridges and 10 stretches of highway were damaged by the heavy rain.

Mexican presidential race
just too close to call

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Mexicans seem to be following the lead of Costa Rica. The presidential race there is too close to call, and a provisional winner might not be named until Wednesday, if then.

Deadlocked are Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Partido Revolución Democrática and Felipe Calderón of the Partido Acción Nacional. In third place appears to be Roberto Madrazo of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional.

The Instituto Federal de Elecciones said after polls closed that the results of a quick count would be released by 11 p.m. local time. However, when that hour came, a spokesman said that the race was too close to be determined by a quick count and that the nation would have to await the results of a more detailed count.

Calderón is of the same party as Vicente Fox, the outgoing president.

López Obrador, who is identified as a leftist, told a late night news conference that he had won by 500,000 votes, but he has a history of  post-election posturing.

The Partido Acción Nacional appears to have taken three races for governor, and the Partido Revolución Democrática appears to have held on to the governorship of the Distrito Federal. All three major parties appear to have taken substantial seats in the congress.  López Obrador is a former federal district governor.

Costa Rica enjoyed a week of nail-biting after the Feb. 5 presidential race as election officials recounted each ballot before naming Óscar Arias Sánchez as the winner.

Pre-election polls showed both López Obrador and Calderón in a race too close to call.

Nicaraguan candidate dies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Herty Lewites, the former Managua, Nicaragua, mayor who was a presidential candidate, died Sunday from a heart attack, said sources in that country.

Lewites, 66, became the candidate of the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista after he broke with Sandinista leader Danny Ortega, presidential candidate of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 130

The 72-room Ramada hotel is in the foreground surrounded by towers of condos.

Ramada Resort sketch

Ramada resort hotel in Jacó to be started in October
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Ramada hotel in Jacó will be the centerpiece of a project that also will include six 10-story towers holding 38 condos each. The giant project is likely to change the face of the Pacific beach community. The project is just two blocks from the beach. The full name is Ramada Resort & Residences Jacó Beach.

Century 21 Playa Jacó said it is marketing the units to investors and occupants in anticipation of the completion of the project in November 2007. Construction is supposed to start in October. The project is being developed by Grupo Zeta of San José, which developed the concept of free zones in Costa Rica and also owns the Megasuper grocery chain.

The towers contain two- and three-bedroom units that sell for from $267,800 to $309,600, as well as penthouses that are being marketed pre-construction for $572,900.
Thomas Ghormley H., the Century 21 broker, said discounts are available for investors who purchase entire 38-unit towers. He said the project is ideal for foreign investors and those seeking a second home in a peaceful stable country.

Ghormley, in a cover letter to prospective investors, said the hotel will have 72- rooms, five-star amenities and four-star service. Any advance payments, he said, would be held in third-party escrow.

Zeta said two adult swimming pools and two pools for youngsters will be part of the project, as well as spa and fitness facilities, a bar-b-que area, a playground and a sun deck.

In addition to several condo projects in the Central Valley, Grupo Zeta is a major rice and pork producer with offices in San Jose's Barrio Dent. It also has real estate holdings in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

This little gem is for the time the truth comes out
Volver con el rabo entre las patas

“To return with the tail between the legs.” This dicho, as most will instantly recognize, has its English equivalent. Directly, of course, it refers to a dog who, when scolded, will often slink away, his head down and tail tucked between his legs as an indication of shame and humiliation.

Metaphorically, it is also applied to humans like the braggart or the bully, for example, who when taken to task often are forced to back down. Being thus put to shame they are said to go “with their tails between their legs,” like their K-9 counterparts.

My eldest brother was quite the lady’s man. When young, he did indeed cut a handsome figure and had so many girlfriends it became difficult to keep up with the count. He fancied himself as quite the prize, and also considered it very clever the way he managed to keep his numerous mistresses from finding out about one another. Because, you see, each one naïvely believed she was the only one.

Eventually, of course, the inevitable occurred, and two of these young ladies discovered the truth. But rather than be enraged at each other, they were furious with my brother and resolved to beat the proverbial tar out of him.

So, one afternoon, brooms and rolling pins in hand, they waited just round the corner from our house for their faithless lover to come home. When he appeared, they ambushed him and sent him running screaming and yelling into the house, con su rabo entre sus patas.

Well, there was quite an uproar, as you may imagine, and we all came rushing to see what the commotion was about. When we found out, everyone had a good laugh at my brother’s expense, which made him feel even more humiliated.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

But my grandmother wasn’t laughing. My brother was her darling, and she was incensed. The two women were still outside, hurling taunts at the locked door from the curb. So, my grandmother sneaked around behind with a pale of water and doused them both thoroughly.
Of course this brought the entire neighborhood out into the street to enjoy — and join in — the mayhem. Everyone was laughing hysterically, which only served to compound my brother’s chagrin still further.

Now, a word of caution: It’s alright to use this dicho in Costa Rica, but should you travel to the mother country I wouldn’t advise it. You see, in Costa Rica the word rabo simply means “tail,” while in Spain it means something quite different, having to do with the a certain feature of the male anatomy. In Spain the word cola would probably be more appropriate for our purposes.

With this knowledge in mind, the reader is left to his own conjecture regarding the possibility of double entendre in the preceding story. Or was it a tale? Hmmm!

Much-anticipated downtown police raid captures 19
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The much-heralded downtown raid by law enforcement took place Thursday night and resulted in the apprehension of 19 persons who did not have proper immigration papers.

The majority of those detained, some 15, were Colombians and Dominicans, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Police did not report locating anyone who was the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant.

Although the raid was designed to catch robbers and drug vendors, those people were back in business at Avenida 1 and Calle 9 Friday night.

Officials said they concentrated on hotels where foreigners might be found.  Officials also said they located seven businesses that were operating without
the proper licenses, permits and paperwork.

The sweep involved more than 100 officers and lasted from 7 p.m. to shortly after midnight. Some 125 persons were stopped and asked to provide papers. Some of the questioning was done in and around the Parque Morazán, a location notorious for nighttime robberies of tourists.

Officers involved were from the Fuerza Pública, the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Policía Especial de Migración and the Policía Municipal.

The raid was unusual because officials had been talking about it publicly for days before. Conducting the raid on a Thursday also was unexpected because the area is far more populated on weekend evenings.

Officials said that two knives and various doses of crack cocaine and marijuana were confiscated.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 130

A.M. Costa Rica/Ana Lyons
A construction crew is beginning work at the Río Portalón where the bridge on the main Costanera Sur highway was wiped out last Sept. 23. The destroyed bridge is only part of the devastation wrought by a hurricane backlash, but it probably is the most obvious to tourists and travelers. Motorists have had to ford
the Rio Portalón, sometimes with the help of a high-wheeled tractor. The spot is about  25 kms. (15 miles) south of Quepos and 15 kms (9 miles) north of Dominical. Despite the bridge work, a resident reports the road still is in terrible shape. Contracts for repairs are being negotiated.

Atlanta and Miami duke it out to be Latin gateway
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A major competition is brewing between two cities in the southeastern United States to become the gateway to Latin America. Both Atlanta and Miami want to be the hub for businesses from that region. Billions of dollars are at stake. Miami may have a substantial head start, but Atlanta is pushing for a come-from-behind victory.

Miami is known for its links to Central and South America: there are Spanish-language radio and TV stations, newspapers and billboards, an entire section of the city called Little Havana and an abundance of restaurants featuring Latin cuisine. That helps draw businesses.

"Miami is what we call northern South America," says Christian Toro, who runs a media company in Colombia. He and other Latin American business leaders see Miami as a home away from home, and a natural place to set up shop in the United States.

The vice president of Venezuela-based Cisneros Group, Gabriel Montoya, highlights Miami's large population of qualified Spanish-speakers who know the Latin culture, pointing out, "in terms of accessibility, availability of bilingual human resources, it's very convenient."

All this means a steady influx of new businesses and jobs for Miami. It also helps increase Florida's trade ties with Latin America, boosting the state's coffers. But in recent years, Atlanta has been trying to usurp Miami's position.

Hans Gant, head of economic development for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, has spent a lot of time, effort, and energy in making the connection to Latin America. "Chile, Brazil, Argentina are considered to a great extent emerging economies. That has huge opportunity, long-term, in the future. As these economies mature, they're going to reach out to establish foreign direct investment in other parts of the world. When that happens," he says, "we want to be in the position to attract that foreign direct investment here. And that creates direct jobs here as well."

So, like any competitor, Atlanta is playing to its strengths. It doesn't have Miami's bountiful Latin American culture, but Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue argues his state has something else: what he calls "a corner-store location."

Standing before a room full of Latin American business leaders at a recent summit in Atlanta, Perdue spoke of the huge Atlanta airport and the state's two ports. He said Georgia's location, just north of Florida,
makes it the best place to bring in goods and quickly
 reach the entire U.S. population. "Marketing and logistics will ultimately figure that out. [We offer] the shortest, cheapest, most efficient route to the customer." His hope is that Latin American businesses will agree, and build their U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.

It's tough to overestimate how much Georgia wants this. The state recently spent more than $100 billion in new technology at the ports. And the Atlanta airport's new fifth runway cost $1.3 billion. State leaders say both are part of the Latin American strategy. And apparently they are helping.

Mark Smith, who oversees western hemisphere affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says "Atlanta is really an up-and-comer." He says parts of Texas and California that do a lot of business with Mexico are also pursuing Latin America, but it's really a two-city fight. Ciudad a ciudad, as it were. "The most vigorous competition right now is between Atlanta and Miami for the title of the Gateway to the Americas."

This race has no end in sight, but Hans Gant of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, says business leaders are looking ahead, far ahead. "We have a strong belief that somewhere in the future, whether it's near or far, there is going to be a free trade agreement of the Americas. We want to be the location that is ultimately selected as the headquarters or secretariat of the FTAA. And we've been marching down this road with a campaign to position ourselves just for that."

Serving as free trade agreement headquarters would give a city bragging rights, as the gateway to Latin
America. That goal, though, might be putting the cart before the horse, since it's not clear a hemispheric free trade zone will ever get the needed support in either the United States or Latin America. Many U.S. politicians are wary for numerous reasons, including outsourcing jobs. And there are some growing populist, anti-American movements in such countries as Argentina, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

But Gov. Perdue projects optimism, observing, "The business community can lead us oftentimes in creating relationships that may not exist in a political way. So hopefully that will be the case."

Georgia's top official spoke to reporters after his speech to Latin American business leaders. They were in Atlanta for a conference sponsored by the Sumaq Alliance, a network of business schools in Latin America and Spain. 

The Sumaq meeting was originally planned for Miami. But organizers say three years ago, Atlanta made a series of phone calls, offered a better deal.

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