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(506) 2223-1327     Published Thursday, July 9, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 134       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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An analysis of the news
System in need of change to protect honest people

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While judicial officials worry about organized crime and drug smuggling, frauds and scams continue unabated.

Lawyers ignore ethical boundaries to appropriate the properties of clients.

Fake business people sell mythical goods to the world.

Jungle properties are offered electronically as retirement homesites.

Organized squatters invade land. Others just steal it at the Registro Nacional.

Online casinos and sportsbooks offer their services with no outside supervision.

For a country that is heavily dependent on outside investment and export sales, there are limited resources for foreigners to do their due diligence and receive some protection.

A reader Wednesday reported that prosecutors are fighting over the location for a hearing against a lawyer who misbehaved. The reader said that an ailing relative set up a corporation as an estate planning technique and included a lawyer as one of the officers. The lawyer had full legal power, so as soon as the individual died, the lawyer appropriated properties and a certificate of deposit for himself.

Prosecutors cannot make up their mind if a criminal case should be filed in Alajuela where the lawyer lives or in Guanacaste where the property is located. The legal clock is ticking away slowly.

A businessman from the Indian subcontinent  sought help this week because he had paid in excess of $100,000 by bank transfer to a man he thought was going to ship him nearly 1,800 kilos of medicinal herbs.  The herbs never arrived, and it now seems that Costa Rican who got the money never really existed. Sales documents and even a phytosanitary permit from the Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería appear to be forgeries. The Indian businessman said he will go bankrupt.

A few years back English-speaking Costa Ricans teamed up with U.S.A. scammers to offer  low-priced computers to North Americans with telephone sales pitches. The computers never existed, and North Americans lost their money when they sent the cash in care of Western Union. Eventually U.S. prosecutors busted up this scam, but the case of the Indian businessman shows that this type of fraud continues.

Some property problems are not frauds. Some are just the results of a down economy. A number of project developers in the Central Valley and on the Pacific coasts are struggling to do right by buyers who gave them millions of dollars in advance for condos and homes that still do not exist. Some of these developers are crooks, but most have simply been blindsided by the world economic situation. That is faint compensation for those who paid large deposits and now appear mostly out of luck. The court cases are many.

Then there are real frauds. Persons who sell parcels of land that cannot be divided legally are breaking the law. There is a steady market in such properties, mostly encouraged by the Internet and North Americans who are too trusting.

The continual problem of squatters and home invasions has been addressed at length in this 

newspaper. The major problem is that such cases are in the courts for a decade or more without resolution.

Those who buy land sight unseen over the Internet probably turn around and place bets at a casino Web page on which they have little information. There are some Web sites that rank online casinos, but there are many more fly-by-night casino operators who appear and vanish at the speed of light. They lure in bettors with small winnings and never pay the big hits.

What makes Costa Rica different from other countries in the cases of the above frauds is the lack of official energy in tackling the scams, particularly when foreigners are involved.

The quickest way for a lawyer to be suspended by the Colegio de Abogados, the national bar association, is to not pay dues. Otherwise the organization is very generous to its members who appear to be transgressing the law.

The lawyer who appropriated the property of the client will do no jail time even if prosecutors can figure out who should handle the case. Even if the case reaches court, a judge will say (as many have said in the past) that the lawyer had every right to sell or take any of the client's property because the client had given him a full power of attorney.

The Indian herb merchant also is out of luck. Overworked prosecutors will sit on his complaint because they will consider the case a civil dispute. They will recommend a suit in the country's glacially slow civil courts. That is if the Indian merchant can ever find the man who got the money.

The jungle properties are offered to naive North Americans at low prices. perhaps $5,000 a lot. Most of these cases will never make court because of the small amount involved. The victim will just eat the loss.

The same is true with online casinos which operate here in a gray area. With the arrival of any investigators, the operator will just fold up shop and open elsewhere under another name.

The theme that courses through each of these examples is that Costa Rica does not have the legislation or the desire to handle such violations rapidly. A lawyer should not be able to steal from a client because he has a position of trust in a corporation. An escrow system for funds would protect international buyers and even buyers of jungle swamps.

An 18th century judicial system must be dragged into the 21st century, and the only persons who can do that are members of the Asamblea Legislativa, perhaps with the encouragement of presidential candidates.

As one victim of a scam pointed out, otherwise no one will do business with Costa Rica.

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Our readers' opinions
Story slanted happy index
to discredit ecological view

Dear A. M. Costa Rica:

It is ironic that the A.M. Costa Rica opinion piece entitled “Sadly, the happy planet report is mostly ideology” is itself mostly ideology.  It is also an example of intentional misrepresentation designed to discredit an opposing view. 

The editorial cites failure of the report’s publishers to include in their press release that the results measure “the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens.”  It also notes that the press release fails to acknowledge that the report does not actually identify the so-called happiest nations. 

What the editorial fails to mention is that many news organizations do explain the purpose of the study very clearly and succinctly.  UPI, for example, in the first sentence of its article entitled “Costa Rica leads 'Happy Planet Index,'” describes the index specifically as “a ranking of ecological efficiency among the world's nations.”  UPI attributes that description directly to the report’s authors.  UPI is also quick to note that the purpose of the organization producing the report, the New Economics Foundation, is the promotion of ecology and sustainable economics.  There is no hidden agenda here and nothing duplicitous.

It seems obvious, however, that A.M. Costa Rica is downgrading the Happy Planet Index in order to support the alternative “ideology” of GDP (gross domestic product) as the measure of a country’s well being.  Long the favorite of the largely discredited neoliberal economists and their political allies, GDP is the admitted target of the New Economics Foundation and the driving force behind their new metric. 

Ever increasing GDP as the standard of a country’s well being is, according to the New Economics Foundation, unsustainable in a resource-limited world.  Recognizing that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, my feeling is that the contribution to GDP made by close to a trillion dollars spent on bombs and hundreds of billions more spent on fast foods and useless toys, is hardly an indication of a country’s well being. 

Those are exactly the values that convinced me the U.S. was a place I could no longer live, and I haven’t regretted leaving for a minute.  On the other hand, I do find attractive those countries able to combine a healthy and satisfying lifestyle with minimal impact on the earth’s resources.  That is what the Happy Planet Index is trying to capture. 

If your world is focused on giant screen TVs, iPhones and excessive medical costs for substandard care (all contributors to GDP), I suppose you would have a different view.  To each his own.

Finally, citing the CIA as a source of reliable information is perhaps the most ludicrous part of the editorial.
Steve Roman
San Antonio de Belén, Heredia

Less talk and more food
should be July 4 policy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

SOS: 4th of July picnic. This past Independance Day picnic was a morning to reunite American expats in Costa Rica, to celebrate the 233rd year of freedom.
Like every year, many arrive to the national beer company to meet with friends they haven´t seen in a while and have a few hotdogs and beers for breakfast. They take the kids to have free ice cream and popcorn and enjoy the games and competitions.
However in recent years it seems that it has not changed for the better. Many people were complaining this past 4th of July, stating that in such a short period of time, much of it was being used for talking too much on stage, mainly about data which not many were interested in knowing. Most of us agree that the ceremony and the protocol is important and must be kept, but please keep it to a minimum.
To make things worse, people had to wait for hotdogs and beer for an hour during the time all this was happening, the only reason it seems, is that it is a way to save on expenses, although I believe a lot of items are donated.
Its been a long time since my first 4th of July picnic in 1970, I remember shaking hands with President Pepe Figueres at the American ambassador's house, the traditional oxcart ride for kids and adults around the ground that has been forgotten and the famous blueberry pie eating contest which was a favorite and has not been done in years. There is no cotton candy and no T shirts, free or for sale, except for some of the volunteers and no more free entrance.
Another big issue many can´t understand is how can a celebration be exclusively for American citizens and not their relatives or close friends that are acompanying them.
Do the organizers expect for us to enjoy a party alone or leave our children, wife, girlfriend or person who is with us at the entrance gate?

This was never a problem until two years ago and makes no sense. It seems that instead of increasing the attendance, they are trying to diminish it, and this year it was very obvious. The attendance was a fraction of what it was in past years.
Three years ago the the picnic was canceled apparently because of lack of organization and help and, according to some comments heard through the grape vine, the organizers were too tired to deal with it.

It seems they would ask for help with this large task of organizing a traditional celebration, I personally have offered to contribute in the board of directors and volunteering during several years but have had no response.
Gregory Kearney Lawson
Tico price vs. Gringo price
really exists here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Reading the letter from Tom Ploskina I could not help but chuckle.  He is right, Gringos pay more.  Fortunately, I am married to a Tica and when we travel or go shopping she goes first to inquire about the price. 

Not always but almost always there is a 15-20 percent difference in what she pays and what I would pay.  There is a "nacional" price for everything.  We went to Monte Verde and saved $20-$30 per night when she asked for the Tica price. 

Who is at fault?  I cannot blame the Tico who asks his price.  However, times are changing.  I love my adopted country but the day is coming when Panamá, Nicaragua and others will replace Costa Rica as a destination of choice. 

Based on how the market has been driven by Gringo greed, I say let those countries have the baby boomers.  As for me, I remember Costa Rica when life was a lot better and security not a great concern.  It would be nice to have it back.
Ken Beedle

Watch diet and read labels

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Warning !! watch your diet !!  Read the ingredient lables on your imported foods, especially those from the U.S.A. On my table are "Aunt Jemima Original" and a "Wish Bone Fat Free Italian Dressing." 

On each label, the second most abundant ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. Check it out on the Web. It is very dangerous to your health.

Eat the local fruits and vegetables. And the local beef is non hormone injected, range-fed cattle.
John W. Erb
San José

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 134

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Honduran negotiations set to start today in Rohrmoser
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Negotiations between the ousted president of Honduras and the man who took his place already are off to a bad start.

The deposed president, José Manuel Zelaya, arrived in San José last night and quickly branded his successor a criminal, a murderer and violator of national laws.  He was talking about Roberto Micheletti, the former head of congress who now is the president.

Zelaya and Micheletti are supposed to meet together today in the home of President Óscar Arias Sánchez, but Zelaya, from his statements at Juan Santamaría airport, does not seem ready to make any concessions.

Micheletti is supposed to arrive about 10 a.m. today, and the negotiations are supposed to start about 11 at the home in Rohrmoser. There may be demonstrations.
Honduran economy suffers

Zelaya comes to the negotiations with the support of the Organization of American States and 34 nations in the hemisphere. Even Óscar Arias has come out against the forced removal of presidents, saying he feared a domino effect in Latin America.

Michelette has the support of the main branches of government and the military in Honduras. The people in the country seem to be split between the two leaders but there is no way of knowing the percentage. Both sides have held large demonstrations.

It was at such a demonstration Sunday that a bullet killed a pro-Zelaya protester near the nation's main airport.  That is why Zelaya called Micheletti a murderer.

Sala IV raps state for allowing interview with minor criminal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has chastised the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia for letting a Channel 7 reporter interview a young criminal at a prison when he seemed to have been pressured to give consent.

The decision further defines the rights of minors when they are incarcerated.

This is the case of a minor identified only as M.G.N., who was jailed at the Centro de Formación Penal Juvenil Zurquí Feb. 27. The youth at first agreed to and then declined to be interviewed on camera. The decision said that a prison worker finally convinced the youth to do the interview.

The court noted that the youth did not have his mother or his lawyer present. Both had advised him not to do the interview, said the decision.  The interview was by Jocelyn Alfaro of Channel 7.

The court said that public officials are not allowed to divulge the name of minors, although ministry officials appear to have done so to Ms. Alfaro in this case.

The reporter called the youth on camera the most dangerous of his neighborhood and someone who is used to going about armed. The television interview also showed his tattoo that is easily identifiable, said the court, and video of the youth's home when judicial police were making a raid to arrest him.
In finding for the youth against the ministry, the court ordered the state to pay for the costs of the hearing and unspecified damages.

The decision is consistent with a judicial philosophy that seeks to keep the crimes and identities of young criminals secret in the hopes that they can be reformed.

That philosophy is part of the United Nations rules for protection of juveniles, but it is not universally accepted. Some jurisdictions encourage the publication of juvenile crimes and criminals as a way of keeping the community alerted to young scofflaws.

In a 2008 case, the same court declined to find against the newspaper Diaro Extra when it published a news story about the arrest of a 17-year-old suspected of four murders and used his last name. The arrestee is Carlos Calderón Morales, and he brought the case against the newspaper.

However, the court decided that the newspaper had used only the common last name and protected the youth's image by putting a black line across the face and only using a profile photo. The newspaper argued that the case was of major importance.

An individual's image in Costa Rica is considered personal property, and the news media can use it only under certain conditions. This is why in the trial of Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho, the court forbade the use of his image until he was convicted of fraud.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 134

Judge has report of expert who studied rail line problem
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A civil engineer, a court-appointed expert, has presented his assessment of a steep slope along the San José-Heredia rail line.

This is the slope that has generated a court case by the land owner. He has said he believes that continual railroad activity will cause a slide and damage his property and perhaps hurt passers-by. He said that cleanup activity by the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles might cause problems. The agency has taken some steps against erosion of the slope, which is almost 90 degrees.

The Poder Judicial confirmed that the expert presented his report Tuesday in the afternoon.

The judge in charge of the case in the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo has 24 hours to study the report before a decision can be reached.

The delay in starting regular passenger service on the line was a blow to the agency. Originally a December starting date was planned, but a bridge was found to be inadequate as were the cross ties. The bridge was fixed and new, concrete cross ties were installed though the entire 10 kilometers of the line, some six miles.
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A.M. Costa Rica/Valeria Morales Espinoza
Station remains unfinished near Parque Nacional while lawyers argue over the state of the roadbed.

The train already had gone into service carrying passengers for free in anticipation of an inauguration ceremony. Then the court ordered a halt.

The line is important to those who have to travel between Heredia and San José because they will be able to avoid the massive traffic jams in La Uruca and adjacent Heredia.

Schoolgirl doing errand strangled in northern Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone strangled a 14-year-old school girl in the community of Zapote de Upala in northern Costa Rica.

Neighbors searching for her found the body Tuesday night. Her mother said she sent the girl to a small store shortly after noon to get diapers for an infant.
The girl has the last name of Miranda, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Judicial agents from Canãs were at the scene. It was clear that the girl was intercepted about a mile from her home by the killer or killers. Officials said they think that rape was a motive. They said that there had been similar attacks in the area, particularly on that stretch of road.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 134

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Honduran economy faces
an additional challenge

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The forced removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by his country's military June 28 has left the Central American nation, already one of the poorest nations in the world, in economic chaos.

Honduras is now facing an even greater economic slowdown and possible sanctions and trade suspensions because of the action most outside nations regard as a coup d'etat.

Supporters of the interim government accuse President Manuel Zelaya of violating the constitution and say his removal was legal. But Zelaya's supporters refer to interim President Roberto Micheletti as a gorilla who has taken power illegally. Both sides have now agreed to attend talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, but the political standoff could last for months.

Most Hondurans are caught in the middle, living under martial law conditions with nightly curfews and soldiers on the streets.

A construction worker named Marcial says there has been a slowdown in projects, and he blames both sides. He says the politicians are all the same and that the strife is hurting his chances of finding work to feed his four children.

Some of the economic turndown here can be blamed on the worldwide recession and some on the political divisions that began when President Zelaya began implementing policies that alienated the business sector months ago. His removal by force, however, has made Honduras a pariah among regional nations. If the ousted leader is not allowed to return soon, many countries could impose trade sanctions and cut off aid to Honduras.

One of the country's leading industrialists, Eduardo Facusse, said in an interview that Honduras can withstand sanctions to defend its right to manage its own affairs. He says Hondurans want to work in peace. He says this is a small country, but people here believe liberty is more important than any price they have to pay.

Facusse says Honduras can count for help on its expatriates living in the United States.

He says the half million Hondurans living in the United States who send money home can help the country move forward. Each year Honduran emmigrants send around $2.5 billion in remittances to their homeland, but the recession has also affected their ability to save money to send.

Honduras is a poor country with 12 percent of its work force unemployed and over 30 percent underemployed. Many workers who supported Zelaya complain of being exploited for low wages here and say the rich people and those running factories should also pay more taxes, something the business leaders say would only hurt the economy more.

An important source of jobs is the twin plant or maquiladora sector that still employes over 100,000 in spite of the worldwide recession and the turmoil in Honduras. Maquiladoras are plants that bring in parts duty free from the United States and then export completed products back free of tariffs.

Chris Haughey is a U.S. entrepreneur who has plans to manufacture high-quality wooden toys here. He is making arrangements to turn a now-empty section of a building in a maquiladora zone outside Tegucigalpa into a factory that one day could employ dozens of Hondurans.

A trade cutoff by the United States could dash his plans. Still, he remains optimistic. "So far we have not seen anything that tells us we should not be making this investment or that we should not be getting our factory up and running," he said.

But if no accord is reached to end the political crisis here in Honduras, Haughey realizes he and the investors who back his project may have to look elsewhere. "It would be an awful thing for the country because you are going to see even greater unemployment and you are going to see potential projects, potential investments, get canned that would have created jobs in the future," he said.

So Haughey, along with more than seven million Hondurans, is hoping the crisis will be resolved soon.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 9, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 134

Latin American news digest
Rain is likely to dampen
Caribbean sports contests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While much of the country has the advantage of stable weather conditions today, the Caribbean coast faces the possibility of an increase in rain through the weekend. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional issued a special weather forecast for the Juegos Nacionales del Caribe 2009 are taking place through Saturday in the Provincia de Limón.

A low pressure system is likely to cause rain in the mornings, the afternoons and cloudy nights Friday and Saturday, the institute said.

Today the forecast for the Central Valley is for partly cloudy skies and continued higher temperatures in the vicinity of 29 C during the day (about 84 F) with the temperature around 33 C (91 F) along the Pacific coast.

The predication calls for isolated showers in most of the country with thunderstorms in the southern zone and rain in the early evening in the central and southern Pacific coast.

Cuban who drove taxi here
held for Czech drug charge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man sought to face a drug charge in the Czech Republic has been remanded to prison for two months while the legality of his extradition is weighed.

He is a Cuban with the last names of Hechavarría Maldonado who was detained Tuesday while driving a pirate taxi in San José. He has been in the country since 2005 and is believe to have an outstanding sentence in the European country, said the Poder Judicial.

Fire extinguisher suspect
detained at home in Tibás

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial investigators detained a man Wednesday who is suspected of 13 separate cases of stealing fire extinguishers from commercial buildings. He was arrested at his home in Tibás, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The man is suspected of entering commercial buildings on a pretext and then taking the extinguishers when no one was paying attention.

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