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(506) 223-1327      Published Monday, July 24, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 145       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Hidden 'owners' wait to trap unwary buyers
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As property values increase, more and more people fall victim to El Ley de Informaciones Posesorias No. 139 of June 14, 1941.  

The principal behind the law is Roman, the acquisition of ownership by possession.  Problems arise when foreigners who have bought a property find others claiming the same land.

Some foreigners caught up in legal battles over these types of disputes have just picked up and left the country exhausted, walking away from substantial investments.

El Ley de Informaciones Posesorias translates into English as the "Law of Possession Information."  It means acquiring untitled and unregistered land through proof of occupancy over the years. 

To acquire land and get full title to it using the law one needs to have some long-term rights to the property by living and improving it or through inheritance.

The procedure to get title involves starting a case in the jurisdiction where the land is located. This is called an información posesoria case.  The judicial process is not complicated.  The process begins by having a survey of the land completed by a licensed surveyor.  Witnesses, such as neighbors, must testify as to the ownership rights of the person or persons requesting the title.  The petitioner must show peaceful, public and continuous use of the property for more than 10 years.

There are also some technical requirements where government departments must provide reports as to the type and use of the land to the court.

The case can take from months to years to complete.  Usually, the legal process is slow because the government departments drag their feet to complete their required studies.   The time period is also dependent whether the court is fast or slow in accomplishing its judicial duties.

There are many different scenarios where a new owner can lose property because someone else is claiming the same land.  Here are three examples:

Dual Title:

This ploy is where a local receives title to a parcel through the law and takes it to the Registro Nacional where officials there give the land a parcel number called a Folio Real number in Costa Rica.  Once the land has the number, the person goes back to court and states he lost the original court decree and wants another one.   The court issues a duplicate, and the person takes it to the Registro where workers give it another parcel number.   There are now two different numbers for the same parcel. The swindler then sells them both to unsuspecting buyers. 

In a recent Sala IV case, number 471-00, the justices decreed the first to re-register a particular dually sold property was the true owner based on the principle, first in time, first in right.

Transfer of possession rights:

At any time, a person in possession of a parcel of land can sell his or her rights to it based on the time they have in possession.  Transcribing the act of sale into a notary’s book makes it legal.  Since the land does not have a title, there is no document filed at the Registro Nacional. 

The problem is evident, repeated sales of the same possession rights to foreigners over the years. 

Out and out fraud – a setup from the beginning:

In this scenario, a person who is about ready to get a title to a property and while conspiring with someone else gets the accomplice to make property maps over the same area.  Anyone can get a surveyor to map anything and have the layout filed at the property map department of the Registro Nacional.

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Each map overlay shows someone trying to take ownership of part of the property.

Three maps claim
the same property

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the real example above, three maps were filed on the same piece of property.

The first went to the Registro Nacional in 1986. This map outlines the largest piece of land, some 299 hectares, about 739 acres.

In 1995 someone mapped out a section that is about half the size of the existing property, claimed right of possession and registered the land as a new piece.  It is 109.88 hectares or about 271.5 acres.

Then in 2000, someone filed a map that created a strip of land though the original property and claimed ownership rights to some 56.59 hectares, about 140 acres.

All three maps were the result of alleged long-time possession. The Registro recorded all three maps without any recognition that the later two were superimposed on the original piece of property.

Of course, when a North American purchased the property based on the first map, he had to do court battle with those who claimed rights under map two and map three.

The partners in fraud wait several years and then the one with the filed second map shows up stating he was the true owner of the land and sues.

Since these types of lawsuits can last many years, a new owner in many cases makes a deal with the plaintiff giving up valuable territory to settle instead of fight. 

Increasing the proportion of a piece of land by redoing the measurements is another way to take someone else’s property.  This happens in areas of Costa Rica where good fences do not define borders.   In this country to protect ones property rights, ugly fences are a must, in many cases destroying natural beauty in the process to keep people honest.

The Registro Nacional adds a validation period of three years to property records when they originate from información posesoria or an increase in size.  However, this period means little. People have up to 10 years to sue over a property issue counting from its registration date.

In cases of moving fence lines, encroachment or trespassing, the courts have held there is no time limit to file a legal complaint.  

Buyers should use extreme caution when purchasing property originating from a recent información posesoria case.  When a property record has a validation period associated with it, they should find out why and from where it originates. 

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 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 145

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Property measurement
will start in Nicoya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Laura Chinchilla will be in Mansion de Nicoya today to inaugurate a project to measure and verify the dimensions of properties in Guanacaste.

She is the first vice president and also serves as minister of Justicia y Gracia. The Registo Nacional where deeds and property records are kept is part of her responsibility.

The effort is part of a program of verification of catastros or deeds with the actual location and sizes of the properties. The program is being aided by the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.

The opening event will be at 11 a.m.

An announcement said that the first step in the project would be to take measurements of properties and compare them with the information in the Registo Nacional.

Work starting on road
to Pacific beach towns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's emergency commission says work will start today on a seven-kilometer stretch of highway between Belén and Huacas in the Nicoya Peninsula. This is an important route for tourists who have faced damaged roads for the last year. It is a route to Tamarindo, Flamingo and other Pacific beach towns.

The job has been contracted to Corporación Pedregal of Santa Ana for 200 million colons or $388,000. The work will be supervised by the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias and the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

A second stretch of 22 kilometers also will see repair when the first job is finished. That work is for more than $1 million.

Chickens need not apply:
Rugby teams meet Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Believe it or not, Costa Rica has rugby teams, and the sport is being taught in at least one school.

Saturday teams from San José and Cartago will meet at the Estadio Nacional in Parque la Sabana at 10:30 a.m. A youth game starts an hour earlier.

The game involves 15 players on each team physically assaulting each other for two 40-minute periods. Unlike U.S. football there are no breaks between plays.

The game this Saturday is being dedicated to  Jean-Paul Monchau, the French ambassador, and Miguel Carabaguiaz, the executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, who have helped promote the sport, according to the Asociación Deportiva de Rugby.

The Liceo Franco Costarricense also has promoted the game, too, an announcement said.

Information about the club here is available on its Web site.

Traditional meeting set
for Tuesday in Nicoya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tuesday may not be a national holiday by law, but President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his cabinet will move the government to Nicoya, as is tradition to celebrate the date when the Partido de Nicoya chose annexation by Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua.

That was in 1824, and the national holiday celebrates the inclusion of the unique culture of Guanacaste into that of Costa Rica. Guanacaste is where cattle and horses are raised, where the marimba is played and where the dancing and the food is different than the rest of Costa Rica.

Meanwhile there is unhappiness being displayed by Guanacaste residents at a law that moves certain national holidays to the next Monday to create a three-day holiday. This year the Annexation of Nicoya will be celebrated as a holiday on Monday, July 31.

Still Arias and his Consejo de Gobierno as well as other political figures will be in Nicoya Tuesday.

Elka creditors to meet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Creditors of the defunct Banco Elka S.A. will meeting Friday for another round of checks.

Government regulators closed Banco Elka June 29, 2004, because the institution lacked solvency, they said. The action was a blow to a number of expats because the bank had actively sought their deposits.

The bank had more debt than assets when it closed.  Depositors representing about $25 million went through the lengthy process to validate their claims.

The meeting will be at 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Edificio Cooperativo north of Mall San Pedro.

Public defender held in killing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have detained the husband of a woman who was found murdered a week ago.

He is Fernando Burgos Barboza, a well-known public defender. His wife, Maureen Hildago Mora, also worked for the Poder Judicial.

A judge ordered the man held for six months in preventative detention. He was detained Friday.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 145

Policy basically has been hands-off
Sportsbook crackdown puts Costa Rica on the spot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Devil's bargain that Costa Rica has made with the sportsbooks is beginning to unravel, but so far the government has not taken any action.

In order to generate thousands of jobs, sportsbooks have been treated gently by official Costa Rica, even to the extent that any effort to really regulate them fails in the Asamblea Legislativa.

An analysis of the news

Now there is pressure from the United States, which has the power to lock out most of the gambling activities from that country which arrives here via telephones and Internet.

For many years, the sportsbooks have lived above the law. They pay little in taxes. The last major tax-writing effort at the Asamblea Legislativa basically exempted sportsbooks from an income tax in exchange for a flat $50,000 annual fee. The bill did not become law, but clearly sportsbooks had friends among the legislators.

The chief executive of BetonSports.com still is in jail in the United States, and the company has shut down its Web sites. The bulk of the employees have been furloughed, and many wonder if they will get their severance pay, as required by Costa Rican law.

Many companies, including call center operators, have ducked out of town under cover of darkness without paying what the law requires.

Of course, that does not count social security payments for the legions of young North Americans who work at the sportsbooks illegally. Even David Carruthers, the jailed chief executive, was reported running a company here with up to 2,000 employees while he was on a tourist visa. Tourists are not suppose to work.

Carruthers could easily have obtained a work permit on the strength of his job with BetonSports.com, but he appears to have declined to do so.

There is no secret that some sportsbooks provide magical updates of tourist visas for their employees. No trip outside the country. No lengthy visit to immigration. The visa renewal stamp just suddenly appears in the passports.

Costa Rican officials might be hesitant to take any action because the last effort to look into the business of a sportsbook was a public relations disaster.

Security ministry agents raided the Santa Ana compound of Calvin Ayre, founder of Bodog,com in
March. They expected to find illegal gambling: A made-for-television poker tournament in progress.
The event was a cocktail party, and raiding agents were only able to find Ayre's armed bodyguards. Unlike others in violation of Costa Rican law, they were asked to leave the country. They returned not long after.

The real tournament was being conducted at the studios of Channel 7, Teletica, and officials have yet to provide a reasonable answer why they did not visit the television station whose executives have substantial political pull.

Although sportsbooks are supposed to register at the Ministerio de Economía, there is no inspection program. Bettors who call on the telephone or contact the firms via the Internet are relying on the honesty and goodwill of the company. That's why the Internet is active with complaints from bettors who feel they have not been treated fairly.

In some cases, online casinos other than Bodog or BetonSports have been known to forget to pay big winners. The bettors have no recourse except to complain.

BetonSports has ended up in bad company in another way. A year ago, New York and federal officials busted a $360 million gambling operation linked to the mob and to a sportsbook in Costa Rica.  It turns out the sportsbook, being used as a virtual wireroom for persons linked to the Bonanno Mafia crime family, according to New York officials, was part of the BetonSports operation, using the name Safe Deposit Sports. The administrative contact for safedepositsports.com was Pablo Quiros Valenciano, who has a betonsports.com e-mail address, according to a lookup of the Safe Deposit Internet domain.

Push may come to shove if the United States moves to extradite Gary Kaplan. He was named in an indictment along with Carruthers. If Kaplan still is in Costa Rica, a U.S. warrant will have to be ratified by a judge here. In addition to taking bets, which is legal here, the indictment alleges fraud and money laundering. A judge likely would sign a local arrest warrant and leave it up to Kaplan to fight the U.S. government case in an extradition hearing.

The situation may never come to that. Kaplan has been reported looking for another country that would welcome his operation.

The Óscar Arias Sánchez campaign promised a crackdown on corruption. And the ball is now in the president's court as to whether rampant visa fraud and other possible illegalities will be investigated and whether reasonable consumer protection regulations will be drafted for sportsbooks and online casinos.

Whether literal or figurative rain, we all can get wet
Cuando llueve todos se mojan.

“When it rains, everybody gets wet.” This expression has to do with situations where something that affects one person affects everyone. It is not a generalization, but rather more like a warning.

For example, when President Óscar Arias makes an executive decision, it matters little whether we agree with it or not. We are all likely to be affected by it. 

When the price of gasoline went up twice recently in as many weeks everyone was affected whether they own a car on not. Those who take taxis or ride the bus were also impacted. There is no way we can escape getting “wet” in such situations.

Of course here in Costa Rica this time of year when it rains, it pours quite literally. So we see Costa Ricans carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats when they go out even if the weather is pleasant. In this season known as temporal, Costa Ricans know they must be prepared for wet weather at any moment.

You may also have noticed that as soon the sun goes down Costa Ricans are cold. We complain if the temperature drops to 21 degrees [70 f.] ¡Uyyy que frio! we say, “so cold!” And if the temperature should rise above 26 [80 f.] ¡uyyy que calor! we say “so hot.” We complain because it doesn’t rain enough or because it rains too much. But we know that cuando llueve todos nos mojamos. So we must be prepared.

I do not know the linguistic origins of the word

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

 temporal, but I do know that my grandmother always used to caution my siblings and me not to get wet on our way to school during temporal because in those days we had no way to dry our school uniforms. Even if we had a washing machine back then, clothes dryers were totally unknown in Costa Rica. And during temporal clothes that got wet stayed that way for a long time because of the very high humidity. But I think maybe we were more accepting then of the ways of Mother Nature and less fussy about them than we are today.

Another way to use cuando llueve todos se mojan is when someone gets mad at one person and takes it out on everyone else around them. It’s not fair, but it’s the way life sometimes is. The boss is in a bad mood, so just be quiet and don’t provoke him or we might all get “wet” as a result. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 24, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 145

Castro and Chávez are stars at Mercocur meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez led an anti-U.S. rally in Argentina following the end of a summit of the South American trading bloc, Mercosur.

Some 15,000 students and leftist activists gathered at the University of Cordoba late Friday to hear Castro and his close ally, Chávez, make speeches criticizing U.S.-backed policies they blame for many of the problems in Latin America.

Saturday, the two leaders traveled to the town of Alta Gracia to visit the boyhood home of Castro's late comrade, Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara."

Guevara helped Castro lead his 1959 Communist 
revolution in Cuba. Guevara was executed without trial in Bolivia eight years later in 1967 while trying to lead a socialist movement there.

The 79-year-old Mr. Castro, who turns 80 Aug. 13, made a rare international trip to appear at the Mercosur summit.

Mercosur members expanded a trade pact with Communist-ruled Cuba, which has been under an economic embargo by the United States for more than four decades. The trading bloc also officially backed Venezuela's bid for a non-permanent seat on U.N. Security Council.

Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay formed Mercosur in 1991. Venezuela became a full member earlier this month. Chile and Bolivia are associate members.

U.N. concerned by uneven economic growth in world's poorest nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new report says the economies of the world's 50 poorest countries grew by nearly 6 percent in 2004, the highest rate in two decades. But the report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development says this positive result is having little effect on reducing poverty.

The report says record levels of exports, foreign direct investments and overseas development aid account for the record levels of economic growth in the world's least developed countries.

It says aid from rich countries to poor countries doubled to $25 billion between 1999 and 2004. It says some of the poorest countries profited from high demand for oil and other natural resources as well as record merchandise exports of nearly $58 billion. In addition, the report notes private foreign investment amounted to a record $10.7 billion.

But the secretary-general of the U.N. agency, Supachai Panitchpakdi, says these riches were not spread evenly among all the less-developed countries. And this is cause for concern.
"The population of working age is growing much faster than the number of productive jobs," he said. "The farming sector is getting to be saturated so we need to really have a growth strategy, economic development strategy that can produce productive jobs."

The report finds the key to reducing poverty in the world's poorest countries is for them to develop the ability to efficiently produce goods and services that can be sold at home and abroad.

It says low labor productivity leads to widespread underemployment. And, this is the basic cause of persistent mass poverty. The report says it takes 94 workers in a poor country to match the productivity of one worker in a developed country.

In an effort to increase productivity, the report recommends that the poorest countries should do all they can to improve their roads, transport, telecommunications, energy and other infrastructure. It says it is particularly important to provide more widespread and reliable electricity. Closing what it calls the electricity divide, the report says, is at least as significant as closing the digital divide.

Would-be robber of La Sabana motorist picks on the wrong persons
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A robber tried to steal a car at gunpoint early Sunday in La Sabana, but the driver, a security guard, also was armed.

In the shootout that followed both men were wounded, but the presumed robber died later in Hospital San Juan de Dios.
The robbery took place near the southeast corner of Parque la Sabana about 5 a.m.

A security guard with the last name of Arias was at a stoplight when the robber approached. Another robber fled during the shooting.

Stealing a car at gunpoint is a traditional method employed by robbers in the Central Valley.

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