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(506) 2223-1327        Published  Wednesday, July 23, 2008, inVol. 8, No. 145       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Tomayko gets refugee status to avoid extradition
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
posted at 4:30 p.m.
The security minister overruled her immigration director today and awarded Chere Lyn Tomayko refugee status in Costa Rica to protect her from the U.S. government.

The woman was at the end of a battle to prevent extradition to face a federal charge of international child abduction. The woman, who lived in Costa Rica illegally for 10 years, had generated support from members of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. This included the security minister, Janina Del Vecchio.

The minister made her announcement at a 3 p.m. press conference and her comments generated
applause from some in the audience, including Javier Francisco Montero Umaña, a Heredia veterinarian and the man who married Ms. Tomayko April 6. She still is in prison.

The couple have two small children.

Ms. Tomayko was indicted by a U.S. grand jury in Texas because she took her daughter, Alexandria, then 7, from that jurisdiction contrary to the orders of a Texas judge, who had awarded joint custody of the child to Ms. Tomayko and the father, Roger Cyprian. He still lives in Texas.

Ms. Del Vecchio said the matter was one of human rights and that she thought that Ms. Tomayko was a victim of domestic violence. She admitted that she had made no inquires of Texas officials.

Arias readies zoning decree for Puntarenas province
By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and other government ministers are about to  release a decree specifying the new development regulations in the Provincia de Puntarenas.

The decree states that the new specifications will limit mass, density and height of buildings to benefit Costa Rica's tourist reputation and go along with the country's phrase “no artificial ingredients.”

The mass, density and height of buildings generate a negative impact that threatens the quality of tourist attractions, said a draft of the decree.

The parameters listed in the decree do not apply to areas of the coast that are considered cities, including Jacó, Puntarenas, Quepos and Golfito. Those areas are governed by other regulations or their corresponding regulatory plans where they exist. The decree would not apply to those areas declared as wildlife reserves, national parks or reserves, wetlands or natural refuges. The draft states that the decree will run for four years or until a specific area adopts its own plan regulador or zoning plan.

Alvaro Ugalde, former director del Área de Conservación de Osa, publicly criticized the decree in an e-mail saying that it did not take into mind the landscape of each area or relative populations of each area.

The proposed decree is similar to one promulgated by Arias in early May covering the so-called Chorotega section of Costa Rica, the north Pacific coast..

According to the proposed Puntarenas decree, the area covered would be 4 kilometers from mean high tide. The rules are not uniform but are different depending on how far from the coast a property may be located.

Included are developments in the maritime zone up to 200 meters from mean high tide, a swath from the limit of the maritime zone for 800 meters more and another swath of land from one to four kilometers from mean high tide. Each section has different rules for height, density and lot size.

In addition, the decree treats four separate geographical areas. The first is that part of the Provincia de Puntarenas that is on the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. This includes
Puntarenas province

communities like Cóbano, Paquera and several towns well-known to tourists.

The second area is  the unincorporated area around the city of Puntarenas and the cantons of Parrita, Garabito and Esparza.

The third geographical area is further south including the canton of Aguirre around Quepos and the Bahía Ballena part of the canton of Osa, which runs south from Dominical.

The fourth area is the  canton of Osa not part of the Bahía Ballena section and the canton of Golfito, not including that city.

The density of permitted use increase as the properties are further from the sea. For example, residential building height on the Nicoya Peninsula would be capped at 16 meters (52.5 feet) in the maritime zone, but 36 meters (118 feet) would be allowed further inland. Elsewhere building height could be as high as 40 meters (131 feet).

Ugalde expressed concern in his e-mail about density. He noted that the plan permits 100 persons per floor hectare in some zones. That's 900 person per hectare in a nine-story building, he said, noting that this  could be 90,000 persons per square kilometer and three times the density of Beijing, China.

His math might overstate the possibility because there also is a limit on how much area of any given lot could be developed, not to mention economics.
The proposed decree is certain to generate confusion and controversy. If signed, the decree will allow development in areas where projects could not be built. That is because a developer needs to have a valid plan regulador. But the decree will substitute for such a plan in the short run.

The decree certainly is not what some environmental groups sought. Some want a freeze.

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11 small jolts rattle
the active Irazú volcano

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Irazú volcano must like its magma shaken but not stirred. The volcano east of San José registered 11 small earthquakes between 2:42 and 11:49 a.m. Tuesday, according to the  Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica.

The jolts were from zero to 10 kms (6 miles) below the surface and were from 1.4 to 2.1 magnitude, the observatory said.

The volcano has been emitting hot gas for months, and volcano experts have their eye on it, although they say they do not see a major eruption. Both the observatory, which is associated with Universidad Nacional, and the national emergency commission have observers and sensors in the area..

Competition in insurance
becomes law of the land

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed a law Tuesday that opens up the country's insurance business to private companies. But much remains to be done before a private company sells it first policy.

The measure is one of those changes required by the free trade treaty with the United states. The law creates an insurance regulatory framework to supervise the market. Companies will have to show that they have sufficient capital to operate, although all the details are not yet worked out.

The law removed the 84-year-old monopoly of the  Instituto Nacional de Seguros, although officials hope that the state company will be able to compete. The law also established a income for the  Cuerpo de Bomberos, which until now has been a dependency of the insurance monopoly. The firefighters will be financed by an assessment on each policy written.

One-woman show treats
the horrors of Rwanda

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For 91 days, a woman stayed locked in a bathroom as hundreds of murderers combed through the house over and over searching for blood.

Killers slaughtered the family of the woman, Immaculée Ilibagiza, during the Rwandan genocide. But Ms. Ilibagiza and six other women hid inside the 5-foot by 7-foot foot room and survived.

The true story will come to Costa Rica Aug. 26 and 27 in an English language play. The one-woman show features actress Leslie Lewis Sword, a Harvard graduate whose performance has been called brilliant and captivating.  The show echoes themes of  forgiveness and deep peace amid atrocity, according to a summary.

Ms. Sword debuted as Dorothy Dandridge in a solo show at the National Black Theater of Harlem. She is the writer and co-creator of the show. The show coming to Costa Rica is entitled “Miracle in Rwanda” and was presented first Feb. 8, 2007, in Naples Florida. Other performances have included Stanford University and New York.

The show will be performed at the Cafe Britt Teatro Dionisio Aug. 26 and 27 and at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses Aug. 29 and 30.

Part of tow truck routine
voided by high court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala Constitutional has ruled that transit police of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes can only tow an improperly or illegally parked vehicle if the driver is not present.

The transportation ministry had argued that article 138 F of the traffic laws provided for Policía de Tránsito officers to tow an improperly parked car when the driver is not present or if he or she refused to move the vehicle, according to a ministry release.

The court has declared the second clause is invalid, meaning officials will only be able to write the standard 5,000-colon fine to drivers who decline to move their vehicle, the release said. Legislative representatives are still considering a proposal to raise the fine to 60,000 colons, said the release.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 145

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Fake barcodes said to be a new wrinkle in property theft
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The judicial authorities figured all the bases were covered.

Notaries have to purchase special paper to draft certain important documents. Among these are special powers of attorney that let a third party act on behalf of someon else. This could include selling properties here or transferring a vehicle.

Expats who might be out of the country use this procedure frequently.

The notary paper is double watermarked and bears special numbers in barcode format on the bottom. Some also include the name of the notary. The paper is available at only one outlet, according to one notary.

When someone sells property here, they do not sign a warrantee deed as in the United States. Instead they appear before a notary, a special form of high-powered lawyer, and it is the notary who creates the doument that eventually goes into the Registo Nacional documenting the sale.

The special paper has not proved sufficient to stop fraud. The Dirección National Notariado has sent the nation's notaries a bulletin that says crooks have been cutting
notary bar code

  off the bottom of the special paper and forging new bar codes. The bulletin urged notaries to be suspicious when someone presents a special power that is not as long as the special paper, which measures 33 cms by 21.5 cms wide.

The bulletin also suggests to notaries than when someone comes with a special power to do a legal transaction that they check to make sure the original maker of the power is still alive. Death voids a special or general power.

The bulletin also suggests that the notary check out the marital status and other circumstances relating to the person who would exercise a special power.

Costa Rican law defends so-called innocent third parties. So a crook who steals a real estate property with false documents usually transfers the ownership rapidly to a third party. That way the original property owner is holding the bag.

This is different than Anglo-American law where the true ownership remains at the point where the chain of title was broken by theft or fraud.

Hotel Palma Real will try to get closing order overturned
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives of the Hotel Palma Real and the Casino Palma Real will be going to court Friday in an effort to convince a tribunal that health ministry actions to close the
Lawyer Sánchez
Alexander Sánchez
facilities are disproportionate.

The businesses are in Sabana Norte just 200 meters from the towering Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad building.

Representatives of the four-star hotel were served last week with an order to close, which appears to be the latest in disputes with officials, in part, over the noise emitted by a refrigeration unit. A neighbor has complained repeatedly. The five-story hotel is part of the Barceló chain. It has 70 employees. The casino is under separate ownership. Both still are open.

Officials said they were surprised at
the closing order because an inspection report July 16 cited deficiencies but the hotel management had agreed to fix the problems.

Within the hotel, the inspection findings involved 17 problems such as the incorrect height of fire extinguishers, plants in the way of possible emergency exits and what inspectors said was the lack of adequate ventilation in a restroom. In the kitchen nearly two dozen problems were cited including broken flooring, and inspectors ordered that a sink for washing hands be installed there.

The hotel lawyers will argue that the action by  Maria Luisa Avila, the minister of Salud, was too drastic considering the nature of the violations alleged. The hotel lawyers also will argue that there was no due process leading up to the closing order, according to Alexander Sánchez Porras, a legal representative of the hotel.

The bulk of the ventilation systems that have generated  complaints over noise and vibration really are part of the casino, hotel spokespersons said.
Palma real casinoA.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Casino still is in operation at Hotel Palma Real

The problem over sound began in February when an inspection found noise levels 1.6 decibels higher than the 45 decibels permitted by law, said Sánchez. After efforts to fix the sound level, the nature of the complain changed to vibrations.

Sanchez also said that the hotel chain was upset by reports in the Spanish language newspapers that the hotel restaurant was a source of food-born disease. He said those comments were attributed to the health minister.

Sánchez said that the company periodically checks its water supply and other supplies for the protection on its customers and that there had been no scientific test for contamination in the hotel kitchens.

The Ministerio de Salud is on the warpath over casinos, and President Óscar Arias Sánchez has signed a decree formalizing addiction to gambling as a disease known in Spanish as ludopatia.

The health minister and others supported the decree that limited the hours of casinos and tried to make them seem to be services mainly provided for tourists. In fact, the majority of casino gamblers are Costa Ricans.

Lawmakers make three changes to free trade treaty and get some protests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers voted 33 to 10 Tuesday to make three amendments to the free trade treaty with the United States.

Treaty opponents immediately condemned the move because the document was supposed to be untouchable once it had been signed. However, proponents argued that the amendments only covered procedural issues and certain tariffs that do not affect the country.

One opposition lawmakers,  Sergio Alfaro, noted that President Óscar Arias Sánchez had said that it would be
easier to change the 10 Commandments than the text of the trade treaty. "And now we are changing it," he said.

The first amendment changes the manner in which the treaty enters into force and makes an adjustment to the extension of time that Costa Rica received to pass enabling legislation. It also eliminated the 90-day wait for the treaty to take effect. Thee changes have been approved by the other nations that subscribed to the agreement.

The second amendment addresses some technical aspects of textiles and their country of origin. The third involved changes that Guatemala had made to its own beer duties. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 144

Venezuela's Chávez shopping for weaponry in Moscow
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was in Moscow Tuesday on a two-day trip pursuing arms and energy deals with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev.

Medvedev welcomed Chávez with warm words about trade and cultural ties, saying bilateral cooperation between their two countries helps Caracas maintain regional stability.

Medvedev said in recent times contacts between Russian and Venezuela have become very stable and dynamic. The Kremlin leader says expanded trade, as well as improved humanitarian and cultural relations are among the signs of improved ties between the two countries.

Chávez said upon arrival in the Russian capital that a strategic energy and arms alliance between Moscow and Caracas will guarantee the sovereignty of Venezuela, which he claims is threatened by the United States.

The Venezuelan leader is expected to sign a number of arms contracts for the purchase of weapons that include Russian tanks and submarines.

Independent Russian political observer Alexander Konovalov said the quantities and types of arms that Chávez is seeking could help destabilize parts of Latin America.

Konovalov notes that leaders of Colombia, for example, who are not favorably inclined toward the Chávez regime and vice versa, are likely to wonder why Venezuela is
buying 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. The analyst also  questions why Caracas is acquiring three diesel submarines and who Mr. Chavez would want to sink, adding that continued enthusiasm for submarine purchases will quickly waste Venezuela's oil profits and economic potential.

Venezuela and Russia are both oil exporters. Konovalov says an agreement to help Caracas develop its oil fields will help Russia.

The analyst says there is no doubt a deal with Chávez will bring economic and political benefits, because Russians will break into a new market and assume an important position right under the nose of the United States. Konovalov says any serious businessperson dreams of capturing a market that was long considered the U.S. backyard. Now, he adds, they can not only dream, but can actually enter that market.

Chávez also passed along greetings to Medvedev from former Cuban president Fidel Castro. 

Monday the Izvestia newspaper reported that Russia may resume flights of long-distance air force bombers to Cuba in response to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Central Europe. 

But Konovalov dismissed the report as unrealistic, noting that Cuba does not have facilities to fuel Russian bombers, the planes themselves are old, and the fleet is small. He notes that the civilian version of one of the bombers mentioned, the propeller driven TU-95, was used to by former Soviet Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev to fly to Cuba in the early 1960s. 

Last giant Galapagos tortoise makes a bold effort to avoid becoming extinct
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Galapagos giant tortoise, thought to be the last of its kind, might soon save its species from extinction by becoming a father.

Ecuador's Galapagos National Park said Monday the tortoise, nicknamed "Lonesome George," stunned his keepers by mating with a female companion of a similar
species. They had tried for 36 years to get him to reproduce.

Three eggs are now being cared for in incubators. It will take about four months to know if they are viable.

George was discovered on Pinta island in the early 1970s. He is about 70 years old, middle age for a giant tortoise, and should be able to reproduce.

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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.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


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Bush makes srong pitch
for OK on Colombia pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President George Bush is making a renewed push for Congressional approval of a pending free trade agreement with Colombia. He is urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow a vote in the House of Representatives.

At a White House event showcasing ties between the Colombian and American people, Bush made one of his strongest appeals to date for passage of the free trade deal with Colombia.

"To demonstrate America's good faith, to stand by our strong friend, to send a clear signal that we appreciate our ally, the United States Congress must approve this free trade agreement," he said.

Bush said it will open up a major duty-free market to American goods, noting that exports remain one of the bright spots in the uncertain U.S. economy.

But he made clear that national security reasons are equally if not more important.  He said under President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia is fighting drugs, crime and terror. "President Uribe has stood strong against tyranny and terror. He has done everything he has asked and more. He has told members of Congress that approving this agreement is the most important step that America can take to show its support for Colombia," he said.

Bush made specific mention of the recent rescue by the Colombian military of hostages that had been held for years by members of the leftist rebel group known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization. He noted that on Sunday, more than a million Colombians marched in the nation's streets to denounce the rebels and demand the release of remaining captives.

"They chanted a simple but powerful message: Libertad! That means freedom," Bush said.

Democratic Party leaders in the House have put off formal consideration of the free trade agreement because of concerns about the Colombian government's human rights record. But the White House contends conditions have significantly improved, that the Colombian justice system has been reformed and attacks on labor unionists have significantly declined.

Unidentified man leaps
from Los Anonos bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man committed suicide Tuesday by jumping from the Los Anonos bridge on the border of San José and Escazú.

The unidentified man leaped into the Río Tiribi at about 2 p.m., according to Cruz Roja representative Federico Castillo. The Los Anonos bridge is commonly referred to by expats as the “suicide bridge” due to the frequency of incidents there and its height above the river.

Cruz Roja officials were still searching for the man's body late Tuesday and presume it has been carried off by the rapid currents of the river, Castillo said.

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