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This stories were published Friday, July 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 144
Jo Stuart
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Sala IV gives go-ahead to new immigration law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court, in a decision released Thursday, gave the green light to nearly all of the proposed immigration law.

The proposed law had been sent to the high court by legislative deputies and also the Defensor de los Habitantes. For various reasons, those who appealed thought the proposal had constitutional flaws. The measure already has received one favorable vote in the Asamblea Legislativa.

The court examined more than 40 sections of the 240-article law. Only in one case did the court find a constitutional flaw.

The new law is important to expats because it specifies ways foreigners can live here legally, including as rentistas and pensionados.

It was in Section 67 where the court found a problem. That section would require a foreigner who sought residency by marriage and a Costa Rican spouse to live as a married couple for a year outside of the country. The section of the proposed law was a legislative effort to prevent residency here via false 
marriages. A number of cases have been exposed recently of foreigners getting residency by contracting marriage with a person they do not know. Lawyers set up these relationships for a fee.

Among other measures the proposed law would provide a legal framework for the Policía de Migración y Extranjería who would be charged with strict enforcement.

When the new law was proposed two years ago, the residency status of rentista was left out. However, that residency category has been reinstated and no changes have been made to the financial requirements for pension income for those who seek to be pensionados. They must still be able to show an income of $600 a month from a recognized pension, according to the law, and rentistas must show they have $60,000 in a bank and agree to withdraw and convert to colons $1,000 a month.

In Costa Rica officials can present a measure to the constitutional court for review even before it becomes law. With the high court approval, a second and final vote is likely soon on the measure.

Expats here are not the hardened malcontents
When I was in the States I went with my daughter to Nordstrom, the well-known retail clothing and accessories store.  She wanted to return a number of items she had bought.  As she put them on the counter, she told the clerk, apologetically that she did not have her receipt.  The clerk said that was quite all right. 

When Lesley thanked her, the clerk smiled and said, “This is Nordstrom.”  That said it all.  Nordstrom has built a reputation from the day it opened, of customer service, pleasant helpful sales people and pleasant surroundings.  Wouldn’t it be nice, I was thinking, if a simple smile and the comment “This is Costa Rica” to a thank you from a tourist or foreigner, would say simply, all the good things about Costa Rica that exist.

At a recent book club meeting I learned that a number of expats are returning to their home countries, mainly to be near family for one reason or another.  One young mother of two was returning because of a string of very unfortunate incidents here, including a home robbery. 

Another member and I were discussing this exodus and she declared, “I would never go back to Chicago.  First of all, there is the weather.  Eight months out of the year I would have to live indoors.  I couldn’t stand that.  Maybe the medical technology is better, but the medical care is not.” After giving a list of other reasons, she finished with, “I’ll put up with the potholes and lapses in electricity and other inconveniences. The kindness of the people makes up for it all.”

When I was bidding goodbye to the young mother and commiserating with her, she said that she was not turned off to Costa Rica at all. She still loved the country and they planned to return for visits.  

At my writers group we got onto the subject of people who stay at home and those who are wanderers.  Len made the interesting observation that when asked what is the meaning of the saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” the stay-at-homes responded with the most negative aspect or perception of their life and the wanderers with the most negative aspect of theirs.
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

That got us on to the subject of expats and expat communities throughout the world.  In fiction and often, in fact, they are viewed as a pretty unattractive lot in many countries.  Some, like the British in India, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, kept themselves apart from the people of the country and continued with their customs from home. 

There was some truth to Noel Coward’s “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday Sun.” According to an anthropological study of this group, they not only went out into the noonday sun, they did so after eating a huge lunch and drinking too much wine — whereupon some of them then dropped dead.

A friend of mine moved from working with a non-governmental organization to the diplomatic corps of her country.  As a diplomat, she told me, she is quite isolated from the people she is supposed to be working with. (Granted, the part of the world she is in, is very dangerous). Other expats, former military, are often portrayed as hard drinking malcontents.

We all agreed: it was different in Costa Rica.  The rule, rather than the exception here is that most expats are world travelers, world savvy and interesting people.  When I was in the play “Ten Little Indians” with the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica, all of the members had lived in more than one country, places as far flung as Australia, Africa and the Far East. To a person, we agreed that Costa Rica was the best place to live and this was the best time of our lives. 

So it is not just the people of Costa Rica, the climate and the gorgeous scenery, and how easy it is to be content here. Other expats figure into the mix when one says, “This is Costa Rica.”  And now that I think about which came first, maybe Nordstrom is the Costa Rica of retail stores.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 22, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 144

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Nations get first pick
of travel domain names

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Tralliance Corp., a New York firm that will be the official registry for the “dot travel” Internet suffix says that the rights of nations of the world to register their respective country, cities, and place names will be honored.

Each country and city destination, as well as U.N. Word Heritage Sites, will now be able to register their  place names in the “dot travel” registry, which will commence registrations in the fall.

The priority right provides individual nations with the ability to register their domain names with the travel registry before other legitimate travel or tourism entities, which may share the same names, have access to those names. The idea is to eliminate the frustration felt by governments when many nations were pre-empted from registering top level domain names for their countries, cities, heritage and sacred sites.

In other worlds, the Costa Rican government will have first rights to the domain

“We expect that they will move swiftly to take advantage of the first domain name priority right ever offered to governments in the history of the Internet,” explained Tralliance Corp. President Ronald N. Andruff. “Travelers, in turn, will have the assurance and confidence of knowing that travel web sites will, indeed, be official and exactly what they are seeking.”

“Travel and tourism, while a major player on the Internet, has been operating without a clear identity. Dot travel domain names will bring enormous visibility to our member states and clarity to all that their destinations have to offer,” said Dawid de Villiers, World Tourism Organization deputy secretary-general. The organization is a U.N. agency.

A derivative of the nations’ priority right will enable the proper registration of dot travel names for the world’s largest popular centers to ensure their names are also distributed in a logical fashion. This right ensures that Internet users seeking information about Paris, for example, will find Paris, France at instead of another destination with a similar name such as Paris, Texas or  other economic activities in Paris.

Countries will have until March 31st, 2006, to preserve their rights to their specific geographic place names.

Television special aims
to explore Opus Dei

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y — The powerful and controversial Roman Catholic Church group Opus Dei will be the topic of a major U.S. television special.

Program distributor CABLEready and producer Great Projects Film Co. have joined forces to develop “Decoding Opus Dei,” a special that will explore the truth behind the group that figures prominently in Dan Brown's blockbuster novel “The Da Vinci Code.” Plans call for “Decoding Opus Dei” to debut in May in conjunction with the worldwide premiere of Ron Howard's highly anticipated feature film based on the “Da Vinci”novel and starring Tom Hanks.

Opus Dei is an organization that has significant political power in Costa Rica and in other Latin countries.

Granted access to Opus Dei, the producers will tell the group's story from its founding in 1928 by Josemaría Escriva, a poor, small-town Spanish priest, to the group's infamous portrayal in “The Da Vinci Code” and will explain why it has become a lightning rod for conspiracy theories, criticism and even hatred.

Great Projects' access to Opus Dei will include interviews with the group's leaders, current and former members, and people who knew Escriva, who died in 1975 and was granted sainthood by Pope John Paul II in 2002. The special will also feature never-before-seen archives, including texts, artifacts, photographs, religious rituals and buildings rarely entered by outsiders, said a press release.

"We're planning discussions with top U.S. networks about running “Decoding Opus Dei” as a major event next May," said Gary Lico, president and CEO of CABLEready. "Due to the worldwide popularity of 'The Da Vinci Code' and the film version's global release May 19, we expect to have several international broadcasters on board as well. This is truly the one unknown element to the entire story that is still untold."

"In 'The Da Vinci Code,' a fictional monk named Silas, under the control of Opus Dei, kills and kills again rather than let the secret of the Holy Grail be revealed, " explains Ken Mandel, executive producer, Great Projects. "Needless to say, the real Opus Dei is a bit upset. Thanks to the access we've received from the group, we'll be able to provide viewers with a fair and honest account of the organization."
Infiernillo residents
screened by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers stopped more than 100 persons in the notorious El Infiernillo section of  Alajuela to make the neighborhood more secure, said Rigoberto Rodríguez, Alajuela regional director.  He added that actions such as this will be repeated frequently. 

Fuerza Pública officers stopped every person and vehicle coming and going from the area, said a press release.

Over 100 people had their identifications compared to that of wanted criminals in the police archives, the release said.   Police also investigated residents of the neighborhood and confiscated various knives, 30 grams of marijuana, a line of cocaine and three crack-cocaine rocks, the release said.  

This announcement comes on the heels of a similar one issued by San José regional director Edward Guzmán on Monday.  Guzmán said then that an additional 85 officers were being assigned to the center of San José and another 120 potential officers were coming from the national police academy.  These officers should be ready for duty Aug. 11.

Guzmán said Monday that the extra police officers were an effort to eliminate the unsafe reputation the center of the city has.  El Infiernillo also has a reputation as a place most people wouldn't want to go. 

Plenty of plants found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police in Guayabo de Bagaces, Guanacaste, found a farm with 3,050 marijuana plants, they said. 

The plants were in different stages of growth, police said.  Some were three feet tall, some were a foot and some were six inches. 

However, police said, they were unable to arrest anybody.  Police said they entered the farm at 4 a.m. July 15 with 12 officers in various vehicles.  The officers are continuing to search the farm, they added.
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Another High Noon drama at the San José bus station
By Erin Zlomek*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I heard all the warnings; as a woman, traveling alone in a foreign country, it is imperative to be cautious at all times. So when I was mugged outside of a San Jose bus station last Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking “What had I done wrong?”

In broad daylight, at 12 in the afternoon, and traveling with a friend, I waited outside the station after purchasing my ticket to Guanacaste. A police officer guarded the front of the station and around seven or eight cabs lined the parallel street. With an hour to spare before my bus arrived, I crossed the street to buy a few needed items and lunch. I carried one suitcase and an over the shoulder purse-like bag. My traveling companion carried the same.

We first went into a small store where I bought an extra towel. My friend was looking for a disposable camera but the store didn’t carry one. A polite mother-daughter duo ran the store from behind a counter. The daughter offered to show my friend the closest pharmacy where she could buy a camera, while I waited with the mother in the store.

 I wasn’t in love with the idea of waiting alone with a strange woman and standing guard over both mine and a friend’s luggage. But the situation seemed harmless enough, and the police were close by. My friend and the store-owner’s daughter returned later with no luck.

I paid for the towel and stuck my wallet in my front pocket — a decision for which I would later be grateful. Next we walked out of the shop and headed to a small sit-down restaurant unaware that a classic petty theft scene was slowly building around us.

A man in his early 20s distracted my friend by asking her what time our bus left. Another man in his mid-20s asked me the time.

Now, my friends have always told me my cynicism is an unfortunate personality defect. Both friends and family say I should be less accusatory. But on this afternoon I was grateful for my suspicious instincts.

I immediately grabbed both my bags and called over to my friend. The first set-up having failed, the same man who asked me the time squatted down and started rubbing my right leg in an obviously sexual way. Immediately I focused all my attention on this man to get him away from me. Before I knew it, two others came behind me and grabbed my smallest bag. This time I screamed to my friend in English to get her attention, and I told her to watch my things.

In what was probably one of the dumbest decisions I have ever made, I ran after the foursome, screaming
for help in Spanish along the way. Less than 50 feet from the restaurant the men hopped in a 1992-93 silver Hyundai Excel, plate number 3578 (I didn’t get the last two digits).

When I ran up to the car, the men acted like nothing was wrong. They said they didn’t take my bag even though I saw it sitting in the back seat.

I was screaming for help in Spanish and created a very big scene. I pointed to my bag as if to reach for it. Too afraid to be pulled into their car, I abandoned the effort. The car pealed off down the street, tires screeching, and made a sharp right turn.

Several people around asked what happened. A few people had gotten the license plate information and car description. Two others already had the San Jose police on the phone.

I told my story to the police and gave them the car information. When I later arrived in Guanacaste I filed an official police report.

First and foremost I am happy to be safe. Second, I’m happy my wallet, money and passport weren’t in the stolen bag. And third, I’m glad my Kodak Digital camera model CX743, which was the only valuable thing I had in the stolen bag, is insured.

Nonetheless, the event was traumatic enough to make me never want to travel without a group of people. For the first time in my life I feel completely vulnerable for being a woman, and, therefore, an easy target. But the saddest part is that this is what I will remember most clearly about my trip to Costa Rica. What I saw at Monteverde, Volcan Arenal, and even the beaches of Guanacaste pale in comparison to what I remember about San José on July 17, 2005.

After replaying the incident over in my head more than a thousand times, I wonder  . . . should I have been suspicious of the friendly mother-daughter combination I first met? Or should I be suspicious of the people who “came to my rescue” outside of the bus station? Out here in Guanacaste the Ticos are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. But I still guard myself and my things with extreme caution, and if that means being standoffish or unaccepting of their generosity, so be it.

I hope this experience has made me smarter streetwise. But most of all I hope I can leave Costa Rica without being suspicious of every Tico and their motivations for talking with tourists.

* Erin Zlomek of Pottstown, Pa., is a senior journalism major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. She is in Costa Rica to study Spanish.

It may not be Portugal, but Oporto offers solid fare
Joan and I spent a month driving from Madrid north and west into Portugal, then south and east back to Madrid. The only parts of our itinerary that were fixed were the occasional nights when we got to stay in old castles, having made reservations months before. Run by the governments of Spain and Portugal, they were amazingly affordable for regal elegance and history. I planned an entire day in the caves of Oporto, tasting vintages from the Dauro Valley, the world’s most prestigious Port vineyards, the day before we went to an historic castle to stay two days. “The best laid plans….” I never imagined that all of Portugal would close for Columbus’ birthday, our day in Oporto. We bought a bottle of port in a Seven Eleven look alike that we could have gotten anywhere and sipped it in our chateaux that evening.
When an acquaintance told me that his favorite restaurant in Heredia was called Oporto, I fantasized a second chance to sip good port after a hearty Portuguese meal. Alas, there is nothing Portuguese about what could indeed be Heredia’s best restaurant. Two years ago, three sisters, who had never had a restaurant, opened a large and lovely one. In all fairness, they are not neophytes if you consider that one is a nutritionist and the other two studied food science in school.
Oporto is on the main road that runs from the Cariari autopista exit to Heredia. It is on the right side of the road just before you reach Heredia proper. The recipes are theirs. They trained the staff to prepare them according to their specifications. The entrance is through an iron gate into its private secure parking lot. Inside, a chalkboard lists the current specials that change every Tuesday. The stairway leads to lovely banquet facilities that could easily accommodate 50. The central skylight illuminates a Plexiglas pyramid in the center of the room, which, in turn, shines down through the ceiling of the first floor onto a fountain surrounded by potted palms and olive marble columns. The color scheme is gray and forest green below and lighter upstairs. Inside the main floor, more than a dozen pastries greet you from inside glass showcases in front of a large bar. The dining room is split-level, non-smoking above, smoking below. Bathed in soft light, the setting exudes charm equal to the greeter’s and an understated comfortable elegance.
As you begin to read the menu, the speed of the attentive service makes itself obvious: warm herbed biscuits, flavored butter and goblets of ice water appear in minutes. The menu advertises itself as international, but appears more Tico and Italian with a few North American additions. Pastas, steaks and fish dishes dominate.
On our first visit, Joan and I chose from what we guessed to be the less predictable offerings. She opted for the house pate (¢ 1,163) and jumbo shrimp fried in a coconut batter with mango dipping sauce (¢ 4,917). I chose New England clam chowder (¢ 1,342), a special listed as sopa de almejas, and baby back ribs (¢ 2,758). Oh, what Gringo choices.

For dessert we shared the house Oporto Torte
(¢ 845). The pate was rich and creamy, liver based, and
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served with toasts and blackberry jelly. The chowder was fair, a little salty and thin. Joan enjoyed the jumbo shrimp which were crispy and crunchy without being greasy, lots of coconut in the batter and well complemented by the mango sauce. Although, I prefer jumbo shrimp less sweet and simpler, this rendition might be as good as this dish gets. It came with a crunchy potato croquette and vegetables.

The ribs were a rack of eight, falling off the bone, tender, nicely seasoned, with standard barbeque sauce on the side. It came with a nice salad and potato croquette. Both courses were large and a challenge to finish. During our meal, 30 or so matrons descended the stairs from the banquet room nearly all carrying Styrofoam leftover boxes, suggesting that their portions were also very large. The “torte” was a slightly dry white cake with cream between the layers and dark chocolate frosting, not bad, but a little surprising for a featured dessert among so many visually appealing options.
Subsequently, we shared a very reasonable executive lunch special of tender thin steak covered with grilled onions, served with rice, cooked chayote and zucchini and a fruit drink (¢ 2,000), and a marvelous hot sandwich of melted cheddar, turkey ham and poached pear on an egg twist roll (¢ 1,900). Another diner had bountiful ravioli in a white cream sauce. The place was jam packed with white collar workers and well dressed young people eating everything from medium bowls of soup to large plates of salad to multi-course feasts. Our second dessert was an excellent hot pecan pie, creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce
(¢ 900). Despite the large crowd, service continued to be unfrazzled, friendly, efficient and prompt.
Oporto deserves its popularity. It has a quality that the patrons belong, that they are not faceless transients passing through a meal, but rather, animated, nearly exuberant extended family members, especially the lunch crowd. The evening crowd is a little older and a little more sedate, but also has the feeling that most of the customers are cousins. Such status usually accrues exclusively to a family-run restaurant and only after decades. It is not the Mount Olympus of gourmet cuisine, but it does deliver attractively presented solid fare with some creative touches in a very comfortable setting by an accommodating staff at prices that are decent for the quality and volume.
***      $$-$$$

Very simply . . .  your choices here in Costa Rica of finding your dream home are limited to:

1. a Tico home:  claustrophobic, cold water, and postage stamp land size.

2.  a rare American-style home . . . normally at a VERY inflated price . . . in Grecia, a town of 50,000 less than an hour from San José  there are MAYBE five existing homes for resale suitable for most "gringos."

3.  a renovation;  problem here is that it typically costs more to remodel than to build from scratch.
And of course, we have all heard the horror stories about building in Costa Rica: the builders that absconded with the money —  the five-year wait until completion — the shoddy workmanship . . . and so on.

BUT... think for a minute:  "what do Ticos do when in the market for a new home?"  ANSWER:  "they BUILD" So...just maybe...the horror stories are an exaggeration... or....

The simple fact is this:    BUILDING IN COSTA RICA IS SAFER AND LESS RISKY THAN BUILDING IN THE UNITED STATES.... and obviously the cost is less.

If you are having problems finding your dream home... talk to us.  We work with a small group of very talented and very honest builders who guarantee their work... honor their contracts... and live in the areas in which they build. 

Call us... and come and visit... and see for yourselves .

Call today or e-mail for an appointment:    011-506-444-1695 or 011-506-841-5782  

U.S. House OKs 'truth' broadcasts to Venezuela
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives approved by voice vote, bipartisan legislation that would authorize U.S.-sponsored radio and television broadcasts to Venezuela.

The bill's advocates say this action will provide a "consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news" to Venezuelans.

Rep. Connie Mack, the Florida Republican who sponsored the bill, said the legislation would ensure that the Venezuelan people have the opportunity to hear support for "the positive ideals of freedom, security, and prosperity."

The measure was approved as an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2005.  The amendment would authorize the U.S. government, through its Broadcasting Board of Governors, to provide such radio and television broadcasts for at least 30 minutes a day.  The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent U.S. agency responsible for all U.S. government and government-sponsored nonmilitary, international broadcasting.

Mack has been an outspoken critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who the Florida Republican says is preparing to launch his own television network that will contain "anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric."  Mack added that new laws in Venezuela,
including a "Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television," are being used to "snuff out anyone who uses the airwaves to oppose Chavez and his government."

Many Venezuelan journalists believe that Chavez is "trying to squelch criticism before it starts," said Mack, a member of the House International Relations Committee.

The ranking Democratic member of that committee, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, said in  remarks on the House floor that as Chavez "ramps up his information campaign, we should be prepared to present balanced news to the people of Venezuela."  This should be done, said Lantos, so that the Venezuelan people "can be better able to make informed decisions about the activities of their government."

Another member of the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican of Texas, said in his remarks on the House floor that Chavez "has worked to break down the most basic principles of freedom, including the right to free speech and unbiased information."

The House amendment will "allow the people of Venezuela the opportunity to hear more than just the propaganda of Hugo Chavez," said McCaul.  "It will allow the people of Venezuela to hear the truth."

The amendment now goes to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee for consideration.

Bush pushes for trade pact but House opponents say they can defeat it
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush renewed his campaign for the Central American Free Trade Agreement Thursday amid signs Congress may reject the deal.

Speaking in Washington at the Organization of American States, Bush urged Congress to approve the agreement, saying it will strengthen democracy and spread peace in Central America and the Dominican Republic.

The Senate approved the agreement, known as CAFTA, last month, but opponents say they have enough "no" votes to defeat it in the House of Representatives.

CAFTA would cut or eliminate tariffs among the United States and six Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

Bush argues the trade accord would lead to increased
U.S. exports and the creation of more U.S. jobs.  However, CAFTA is widely unpopular in southern U.S. states, where many voters fear companies will move manufacturing jobs to Central America for cheaper labor.

Bush noted that the United States exported $15 billion in goods to Central America in 2004, and said that congressional approval of CAFTA would increase U.S. exports to the region.  He cited independent studies that suggest U.S. exports of manufactured goods would increase by $1 billion and U.S. farm exports could increase by as much as $1.5 billion.

Bush explained that CAFTA would decrease U.S. trade deficits and support U.S. jobs while also yielding broad benefits for Central America.

"CAFTA will help the nations of Central America deliver prosperity and opportunity for their citizens," he said.  "It is not only good for us, it's good for our partners. ...  This is a good deal for CAFTA nations."

Jo Stuart
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