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(506) 223-1327               Published Wednesday, July 25, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 146          E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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spider web
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
spider on arm

X marks the web

The argiope spider is known for putting a big X or some other symbol in her web. The extra silk may stabilize the web or attract more insect food. These spiders are all over the world, but this one lives near San Carlos.

They are harmless as the photo above demonstrates.

It's not the low season for crooks and scamsters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is the low season for hotels and similar tourist lodgings, but in addition to cash flow, the operators have to worry about scamsters and thieves.

Reports from several hotel operators in the country say that a group of three or more women are targeting hotels, bed and breakfast inns and other similar types of businesses.

South of Quepos they checked in and waited until the owner left the premises of a small bed and breakfast. Somehow they had figured out where the owner stashed her house key and then they raided the home.

Naturally they were gone when the owner returned.
A similar story comes from Escazú where three women visited a small hotel on the pretext of finding lodging for a friend. An employee's wallet was missing at the end of the tour, but worse yet, the place fielded a number of calls from Spanish speakers who wanted to visit and stay. The operators think that the women cased the property for future crimes and criminals but just did not have the self control to ignore an easy theft.

Many hotels have policies that prohibit the entry of persons who do not have registration. At Punta Leona near Jacó, guests cannot leave until they have written permission from the front desk. That keeps the television sets safely in the room.

The flurry of telephone calls suggests that more than three persons are involved. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 146

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Water companies to get job
to keep hydrants flowing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative commission threw out the text of a proposed bill and substituted other language Tuesday. The new proposal would give water companies responsibilities for fire hydrants.

The action was in the Comisión Especial de Asuntos Municipales y Gobierno Local Participativo.

The net effect is that someone will be in charge of the hydrants, and the rate setting authority will keep this work in mind as it fixes tariffs, according to the new language. Previously there were a variety of proposals.

The Cuerpo de Bomberos, the firemen, of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros will be technical advisers on the hydrants.

There are about 5,000 hydrants in the country but only about half of them work, firemen have said, usually after they have had difficulty in getting water to douse a burning building.

In many areas, the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados is the water company and will be responsible for hydrants. In other sections the work will be that of the local water provider, according to the new language.

The hydrants were declared to be in the interest of the pubic, which means that no firm or agency can make a profit on the management.

The measure that the executive branch sent to the legislature in February would have levied a 1 percent tax on water bills to pay for hydrant maintenance. That is not in the new language.

At the same time the government revealed that only 10 percent of the fire hydrants in the country have a water flow sufficient to fight fires.

Tour bus, train collide
in city's Barrio California

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small bus carrying tourists collided with the metropolitan train Tuesday in Barrio California not far from where Avenida 2 meets Avenida Central. There were no serious injuries but the bus driver was taken to Hospital San Juan de Dios.

More than 10 tourists, all believed to be U.S. citizens, were on the bus. The train tracks mix with traffic at that point in its route. The train was en route to Universidad Latina in Monte de Oca when the crash happened shortly before 8 a.m.

English-language weekly
honored for education role

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tico Times, the English-language weekly, has placed as a finalist in a hemispheric competition run by the Interamerican Press Association.

The weekly was honored for its program of putting copies of its newspapers in Costa Rican schools so English students may improve their language. The program also is supported by the U.S. Embassy and local corporations. The award was in the newspapers in education category that was won by Novedades de Quintana Roo of Cancún, Mexico, which has a more extensive program of involvement with the local schools.

In the press freedom category, Marcel Granier, president of Radio Caracas Televisión. and his staff were honored for their tenacious fight for liberty of expression when Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez canceled the television station's broadcasting license.

In all, there were eight other categories, and the winners and finalists represented some of the best journalism in the Western Hemisphere in 2006.

Flag football league
being formed Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Flag football fans are starting a league Sunday morning for men, women and children. The first meeting will be at Parque La Sabana.

The event is being sponsored by Flag Football Magazine, which is planning on having the 9th Annual World Cup of Flag Football here Feb. 28. Magazine editor Jim Zimolka  can be reached for more information at 336-3437.

Flag football is like U.S. football without the tackling. Runners are downed when an opponent pulls a Velcro streamer off their belt.

Motorcycle club plans benefit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Los de Xibalba Motorcycle club is celebrating its anniversary by holding a charity raffle Saturday for a 15-year-old who needs an eye operation after being hit with a bullet last December.

The event, which also is a party, is from noon Saturday until 2 a.m. Sunday at Motor Psychos Bar, Grill and Shop in Santa Ana about 2 kms. west of the Cruz Roja.

The child is Paola Meneses, who was injured in December and is headed to Colombia for an operation.

Neon sign firm turns 70

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The neon sign company Neón Nieto in Tibás celebrated its 70th birthday Tuesday, and President Óscar Arias Sánchez was there to plug the free trade treaty with the United States.

Arias praised the company, which is considered one of the biggest in Central American and the Caribbean. The firm is an exporter of lighted signs.

Arias said plenty of time has past since Cecilio Nieto made the first neon tube in Costa Rica in 1937. Now the country is ready to make the first plasma space engine, he said, in reference to a project Franklin Chang Diaz is running in Liberia. He urged the estimated 200-plus workers to vote for the free trade treaty.

Power cuts are planned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The power company will be blacking out parts of Belén, La Asunción and La Rivera today for what it says is preventative maintenance. The Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz S.A. is the company, and the power cuts were supposed to begin at 7:30 a.m. and last until 4 p.m.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 146

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'The only part he did not end up tearing down were three walls of a newer section.  The new foundation alone cost him about $4,000.'
money pit of a house
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton

His dream of a home here is turning into a deep money pit
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Bryan Joseph Champagne of Mount Airy, Louisiana, bought 10 acres in Chachagua de San Carlos in June 2006, and is still trying to finish remodeling the termite-ridden house that came with it. 

His is a case study of North Americans moving to Costa Rica and facing the local obstacles in building or remodeling a home.

Champagne, who just turned 59 Tuesday, said he now realizes he should have never tried to save the old house.  He was trying to be frugal, thinking preserving the structure would save him money while he awaits his first Social Security check.  Although he has worked in construction, he missed one very important factor — the land the house sits on is not flat, and the house is not square. 

The only part he did not end up tearing down were three walls of a newer section.  The new foundation alone cost him about $4,000.  He had to dig seven to eight feet deep to make sure the foundation would be flat, which required a lot of fill dirt and about 100 bags of concrete. 

Like all construction materials in Costa Rica, concrete prices rose almost daily.  His decision to add an extra bedroom and full bath to make a 2,700-square-foot house increased his overall budget by about $10,000.   He had to tear down almost all of the old house and buy even more costly fill dirt. He had budgeted $30,000.

Other headaches have involved complications with mail delivery, poor Spanish skills, ongoing thefts (seven to date), and the fact that many of the people who started a job didn’t return to finish it. 

Champagne said he has had to finish much of the remodeling himself. If he had it to do over, he would have just torn down the structure and built his dream rancho near his river.  He had already paid almost $4,000 to bring electricity to the river site where he had really wanted to build. He had to abandon that idea when quotes for the construction came in at triple what he had been promised it would cost. 

If he built only one floor of his original two-story river Rancho plan, he could have at least had what he wanted, where he wanted it.  The second story could be added later.

To date, the remodeling of the older home is not even half-finished, and the extra bedroom and bath will now have to wait until he has the money, possibly another year.  The walls are solid concrete and the entire house is made of cement blocks, the only thing that will stand up in termite-ridden Costa Rica. 

A concrete home does not require insulation, which saves a lot of money, but even then Costa Rica homes must be treated for termites to keep the insects from eating away any type of wood trim inside or outside the house.  The house has a high-pitched metal roof to let hot air move up
and the structure is sealed for installing air-conditioning. Eventually the home will have a living room, kitchen, large front and back patios but no garage.

Champagne says he cannot even enjoy the fruit from his own fruit trees because they are liberated before he can get to them.  One of the main reasons he wanted the property
was to give himself plenty to do, to stay busy and active year-round in a tropical climate.  He came close to giving up the idea of retiring in Costa Rica when he faced continual setbacks.  He said he realized he misses his golf buddies and the good Louisiana food. 

Although there is plenty of good food and wonderful tropical fruits in Costa Rica, he hasn’t been able to find good steaks, his favorite gumbo, breaded fried shrimp, or the types of seafood and smoked sausage available in his home state.  But, not being one to quit, Champagne realized that being retired means having all his time for himself, allowing him to spend some of his time with his buddies in Louisiana, and the rest of the time taking care of his dream in Costa Rica.  Another option he realized is that he eventually can sell the front of the property and then go ahead and build his original dream home at the river. 

Champagne offers advice for people considering retiring in Costa Rica and building: 

No. 1: Expats should learn Spanish because speaking the local tongue will make life a lot easier. 

No. 2: Expats should come with plenty of money and know that although building a home may be less expensive than building in the United States, most everything else in Costa Rica is high priced.

No. 3: A small wardrobe works year-round, but open closets are recommended to reduce the growth of mold in damp climates. 

No. 4: Foreigners often are given different prices than locals, so it might help if an expat sends a trusted local to get prices first.   Champagne said he believes a local would have saved $5,000 or $6,000 on his job.  

No. 5: Expats should talk to a fellow countryman who already has built a home here before starting to build.  Most people don’t mind if you introduce yourself in a restaurant or public place. 

No. 6: A U. S. bank might provide a better mortage than a Costa Rica bank, particularly if there are assets still in the United States that can be used to secure the loan. 

No. 7: If the homeowner wants everything to still be there, he or she should hire a house sitter and watch out for scams.  

Of course another solution might be to buy a home or condo that already is built or to hire a professional as a general contractor.

Those are some options that Champagne did not take.

'Champagne said he has had to finish much of the remodeling himself. If he had it to do over, he would have just torn down the structure and built his dream rancho near his river.' money pit owner
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton

Change asked in immigration law to crack down on marriages of convenience
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The acting defensor de los habitantes was in the legislature Tuesday to urge that the proposed immigration law be changed to include a way to eliminate marriages of convenience. At the same time, the defensor, Daniel Soley Gutiérrez, said that those seeking residency through marriage should be respected.

He also told the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración that more attention should be paid to the detention facilities in Hatillo where illegal aliens are now kept. Illegal aliens should have immediate access to health facilities, decent food, recreation and security in Hatillo and any other facility that may be opened, he said.

He also suggested that not all illegal residents should necessarily be housed behind bars.
The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería has lost several key appeals to the Sala IV constitutional court on the topic of marriages of convenience. Certain lawyers have arranged marriages between poor Costa Ricans and even drug addicts with persons who want to move here. The marriages usually are terminated by divorce after the foreign member of the couple receives residency.

In most cases the married individuals never meet. Sometimes the bridge is elderly and the groom youthful.

Soley said that immigration officials should be able to establish if two persons really are married without showing disrespect to those seeking residency in this way.

Soley also said that a new commission on refugees, created by the proposed law, should be designed in a way that guarantees consistency with international treaties.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 25, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 146

Mexico City will target corruption and tradition of mordida
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico has long been vexed by official corruption, which enables drug traffickers to flourish and ordinary citizens to avoid fines for minor infractions. The authorities are trying to fight corruption at all levels, but many citizens remain skeptical about the ultimate success of efforts at reform.

In recent weeks, there have been moves on both the federal and local level in Mexico to fight corruption and reinforce the rule of law. President Felipe Calderón last month removed 284 of his top federal police officials because they were suspected of corruption. He has made the fight against corruption and organized crime one of his top priorities.

In Mexico City the focus has been on the lowest level of corruption, that of the so-called mordida or "bite." This is Spanish slang for a bribe paid to a street cop in order to avoid a ticket for a minor infraction.

Under new rules announced by Marcelo Ebrard, head of government, last week, motorists are discouraged from offering bribes and police are rewarded for reporting those who offer them bribes. The once common illegal practices of driving in the bus lane, failure to wear a seat belt, speeding and running red lights are now targeted by the new laws.

Ebrard says the main goal is public safety. He says the fundamental reason for the new regulations is the need to reduce accidents, which cause deaths and injuries.

But critics, including many city motorists, are skeptical. Arturo is one of them. He says the new laws will only hurt those who have to drive and will do little to protect the public.

He also sees it as a way for the local government of the Federal District, which comprises Mexico City, to take in more revenue. The Federal District is controlled by the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática. Its opponents see the new laws, with their stiff fines, as a way
for the party to gain more money for its political agenda.

That view is based, to some extent, on actions taken by the city government last year in support of Revolución Democrática militants who blocked major avenues in the city center to protest alleged election fraud. They claimed Calderón had won his narrow victory over Revolución Democrática candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador through vote manipulation and corruption in the federal electoral Institute.

Instead of enforcing the law and preventing the demonstrators from blocking streets, the city government accommodated them and spent public funds in support of their encampment that lasted for several weeks.

City officials, however, defend the new rules, most of which will take effect in September. They note that past campaigns against drunk driving have been ineffective because they were not strictly enforced. This time, they say, police will enforce traffic laws, turn down bribe offers and, in general, support public safety.

Monica Flores, a city resident who does not own a car, backs the new law. She says many drivers are irresponsible and they should obey laws in order to protect the public and themselves from accidents. She also believes the new effort to stop corruption will work, because the police, whom she describes as super-corrupt, will stop demanding bribes if citizens stop giving them.

Taxi driver Enrique, however, disagrees. He says the police will remain corrupt as long as they lack education and a decent salary. He says the government's failure to pay them adequately is partly to blame for the problem. He also blames the culture of corruption that has been part of life here for centuries.

Police officers are not saying much about the new law, but spokesmen for the city police forces express optimism that it will work to reduce corruption and traffic accidents in the city.

Brazil's TAM Airlines tries to reduce the number of flights into suspect airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazil's TAM Airlines has canceled or diverted at least 90 flights at Sao Paolo's domestic airport because of rain, which was a factor in a deadly plane crash at the airport last week.

The measure stranded or delayed hundreds of travelers at the Congonhas airport, the latest in a series of problems for air travel in a nation that has coped with two large-scale air disasters in less than a year.

In September, 154 people aboard an airliner died in the Amazon jungle after their Boeing 737 collided with a small private plane. The passengers aboard the private plane survived.
Last Tuesday, at least 189 people died at Congonhas airport when a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 ran off a runway slippery with rain, hit a gas station and burned, killing everyone aboard and several people on the ground.

Saturday, a two-hour radar outage forced a number of flight delays and cancellations, laying the groundwork for more traveler frustration Tuesday.

The series of issues has caused unrest among Brazil's air traffic controllers and others in the industry, and led to calls for improvement in Brazil's air safety record. Brazil's President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva last week announced some emergency safety measures, such as cutting the number of flights to Congonhas airport, until more permanent improvements can be put in place.

Mexican drug manufacturer held in the United States in methamphetamine case
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. authorities say a Mexican business owner has been charged with conspiring to aid in the manufacture of methamphetamines and allege he knew the drugs would be imported into the United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the charges against Chinese-born Zhenli Ye Gon Tuesday. A statement said Ye Gon allegedly helped produce a chemical used to make methamphetamines at his pharmaceutical business in Mexico.

The statement accused Ye Gon of conspiring with methamphetamine producers to divert his chemicals to their organizations.
U.S. authorities arrested Ye Gon Monday just outside Washington, D.C. in the eastern State of Maryland. Mexican officials have requested his extradition.

In March, Mexican police raided his Mexico City mansion and found more than $205 million in U.S. currency. Mexican authorities have linked the money to a drug trafficking network. Ye Gon has denied the accusation and says much of the money belongs to Mexico's ruling party. Ye Gon alleges the party forced him to store it for officials under threat of death during the 2006 presidential race.

U.S. authorities also charged an alleged co-conspirator in the drug trafficking investigation Tuesday. Authorities said Michelle Wong aided Ye Gon by laundering large amounts of money from the drug proceeds.

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