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(506) 2223-1327       Published Wednesday, July 29, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 148       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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unhappy investors
A.M. Costa Rica photo      
Unhappy investors Tiffany L. Webb, Sanna Littell and Sandra Lee Baney. Ms. Webb's
assistant, Tracy Wray, is in background. They hold the documents and plat plan of
the two related projects.
Real estate shortcomings are beginning to surface
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They came with papers in hand and with uncertainty mixed with fire in their eyes.

They are U.S. investors who bought the problem of their lives on the Central Pacific coast. They are emblematic of the slow tragedy that is sweeping Costa Rican real estate.

Many, including foreigners, who put down deposits or perhaps paid for a home and land outright are finishing out of luck in a country where they do not fully understand the laws.

They are amazed that lawyers, developers and others do not play by the same rules as those back home.

They are the 2009 manifestation of the North Americans who placed money in a blackhole in Costa Rica. In 2002 and 2003 the victims were the creditors of the Villalobos Brothers. More than 2,000 investors, most of them North Americans, lost at least $1 billion when Luis Enrique Villalobos closed down his Mall San Pedro office and fled. His brother was convicted of fraud, but the scant 150 or so creditors who followed through on their civil-criminal case and won still have yet to see a colon or a dime.

Others and perhaps some of the same investors lost money with Luis Milanes, a Cuban-American who is back in town trying to negotiate his way out of a criminal case while he manages a string of casinos.

Other investors remember bitterly Roy Taylor, Principal Financial, the Green Fund and other fast-money deals that went bust.

The new crop of unhappy investors are a bit different. They were not seeking unreasonable profits. They saw and perhaps still see Costa Rica as a place to invest and make money. Three such investors, all women, spoke with a reporter Tuesday. They came from Chicago and the Phoenix, Arizona, area.

Sanna Littell was Miss Arizona in 1975. Tiffany L. Webb is a Chicago real estate sales associate. Sandra Lee Baney is a Phoenix area real estate broker. All are involved in a criminal complaint against the developer of either Costa del Sol or Costa Real, adjacent properties about 12 miles south of Jacó. Costa del Sol is a name shared by a
number of developments and real estates firms here that are unrelated to the properties on the Pacific.

The basic complaint is that they paid money for from one to 10 lots, either in part or full, and now it seems the developer did not really own the land but had tied it up with a sales contract. The promised improvements have not been made and the properties have not been subdivided as the law requires. And part of the project may be in the maritime zone where development is forbidden.

A sales contract says that the developer will put in certain improvements and deliver the property free and clear of any liens.

The three women and their lawyer, Mauricio Brenes, say that the properties are now wrapped up in foreclosure because the the land owner, who was not the seller, had defaulted on mortgages. Brenes said that about $2.5 million was paid by would-be purchasers.

A judge thought enough of the complaint to freeze transactions on the land and lift bank secrecy on those involved to see exactly where the money paid by land purchasers went. One women paid $70,500 and another invested  $230,000. That was in 2005 or 2006, depending on the buyer.

They are not alone. They produced a long list of mostly Arizona residents who purchase properties there at various hotel seminars.

The criminal fraud complaint is against Mauricio Cháves Mesen, a lawyer, and also names as an associate Alejandro Pignataro, also a lawyer who is associated with the Facio Abogados firm in San Rafael de Escazú. An amplification to the complaint said that Cháves said he is without funds. The complainant asked for an arrest warrant.

The central Pacific property is not unique. Similar problems have generated civil suits involving condo development in the San José and Escazú areas. A number of other real estate developments are in limbo because their developers were counting on a continual flow of money from buyers and did not see the world economic crisis coming. Some projects have done no more than construct an entry gate while taking substantial deposits from would-be retirees and expats.

The justice system has yet to feel the full weight of this financial shortfall.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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suspended sentence
Casa Presidencial photo
Yudieth León González, child in arms, discussses the suspension of her drug trafficking sentence with Óscar Arias.
Seven get to leave prison
under new opportunity policy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seven convicts, mostly drug traffickers and robbers, received suspension of their sentences Tuesday from President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

The get-out-of-jail-free card went to Yudieth León González, who was serving a term in the Centro Penal Buen Pastor in Desamparados along with her year-old child. She was convicted of drug trafficking.

The other six individuals are Manuel Acosta Méndez, Gerson Cabrera Sáenz, Silvia Dávila Escobar, Carolina Matarrita Gómez, Luis Ruiz Romero and Marco Solís Ruíz, all from the Centro Penal Liberia where the president was visiting.

Such suspensions are traditional at Christmas and even Aug. 15 Mother's day in some cases, but the suspensions Tuesday were based on a program of what the government called opportunity and commitment. The convicts work toward winning a chance to reintegrate themselves into society, said prison officials.

The convicts promise not to involve themselves in fights or drug use, not to carry weapons, to respect the property of others and to eat regularly in the prison dining halls. This is a system that has been in force since December.

To win suspension, convicts also must have a promise of a job and the support of the immediate family.

Also during the ceremony Viviana Martín, minister of Justicia y Gracia said she would leave Aug. 5. She wants to be included on her political party's slate for legislative deputy, and she must surrender the minister's post to do that. The Costa Rican Constitution prohibits those seeking office from holding high government jobs for six months prior to the election, which is Feb. 6. Several other ministers and presidents of independent agencies also are likely to quit before Aug. 6.

Ben Greenwood photo
Ben Greenwood does a stunt behind a motor boat.

Surfing without ocean waves
to be demonstrated at Arenal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ever hear of wakeboarding? That's a sport like surfing but without the ocean and without the sharks.

Not only is wakeboarding a sport, but there is a school to teach that skill at Lake Arenal and even a visiting pro.

The school, FlyZone Costa Rica, said Tuesday that Ben Greenwood, a professional with Liquid Force, a wakeboarding team, would be in the area Aug. 7, 8 and 9.

The location is Puerto San Luis near Tilarán. The school said an 81 year old will attempt to set a record, presumably the oldest wakeboarder. The school identified him as Nuevo Arenal resident David Butterfield.

Wakeboarding is a new sport. An enthusiast uses the wake of a motor boat to perform maneuvers similar to acrobatic water skiing.  FlyZone identifies itself as a school for the sport.

Intellectural property center
opens in Singapore, U.N. says

Speical to A.M. Costa Rica

Asia’s first centre for dealing with disputes related to intellectual property including trademarks, copyright and patent issues will open in Singapore, the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization said Tuesday.

An agreement signed by the U.N. agency and the Singaporean Government will pave the way for training and advice on procedures and provide a dedicated dispute resolution facility in the region, according to a joint communiqué.

The new centre is designed to complement the mediation work carried out by the agency's Geneva office, which was set up in 1994 and has handled a caseload of over 30,000 disputes since then with the amounts in dispute ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Any parties may avail themselves of the dispute resolution procedures offered by the center, regardless of nationality or location. They may be held anywhere in the world, in any language and under any law chosen by the parties.

Given the rapidly expanding needs of the Asian film industry and corporate and technology sectors, Singapore’s role as an arbitration and legal hub for the intellectual property field made it an optimal location for this initiative, the agency noted.

Our reader's opinion
He'll pay for lawyer to press
claim for girl's fatal mishap

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Failure to accept responsibility:

Is a national pastime in Costa Rica and this case is no exception. The waiver of risk the parents or Ms. Scalise signed is a clear example of this. G. McKinnon has obviously never travelled to any tourist destinations outside of Costa Rica.

Parents have a reasonable expectation to have the risks explained to them on any tour regardless if a child is involved or not. While 4-wheelers are not inherently dangerous. Lack of planning, explanation, and failure to reduce risk on the part of the tour operator is.

I'm 100% sure the parents of fallen Brooke were not told about the sharp mountain drop offs. Additionally, the tour operator failed to maintain a safe speed in which all riders were able to keep pace. Ask any motorcyclist or quadracyclist who ride in groups in the mountains, and you'll find that one leads to make/decide the trail, and one follows the group. Additionally people in between stop at intersections etc, so that those who are behind know where to turn.

Taking a zip line tour, there is a reasonable expectation that you might fall. There is also a reasonable expectation that the zip lines aren't completely rusted, and can support a person's normal weight. There is ZERO regulation in Costa Rica with regards to safety. Tourists are not told that. Most tours in other countries are rated: beginner/easy, moderate, advanced, expert.

A 4-Wheeler tour could be beginner/easy if on flat terrain, moderate if on hills, advanced if on mountains. etc. Furthermore, when taking a zipline tour you aren't expected to be able to harness yourself. The tour operator should have known the skill level of the riders and acted accordingly.

The tour operator needs to take responsibility for the death of the girl, It could have and should have been prevented. The tour operator knows there are ZERO repercussions to his actions. It is too bad we will never know the condition of the brakes and mechanics of the quadracycle.

Should the family of Ms. Scalise wish to pursue legal action against the tour operator. I will provide an attorney and pay the legal fees for them.
Craig Salmond
San José

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 147

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Your Costa Rica

German expat appears to be victim of murder-suicide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A German woman who worked as a tour guide died sometime last week in what investigators are describing as a murder-suicide.

She was found on her bed, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Her companion of three years, José Bustos Morales, 38, a Costa Rican, was found hanged in the nearby bathroom.

There is no official cause of death given for the woman, who was Silvia Kollender, 47, but informal reports at the
scene said she had been shot. Bustos also worked as a tour guide, said neighbors.

Neighbors were attracted to the home in Las Delicias in Liberia, in part because they had not seen the couple for several days.

The pair were last seen Wednesday, said judicial police. An official cause of death will await the results of an autopsy being done at the judicial morgue in Heredia.

Police at the scene said they thought that the condition of the bodies suggested that the deaths took place Friday.

Ministry seeking to stem flu transmission at workplaces
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the swine flu-related death toll reaches 21, the health ministry is embarking on a public education campaign targeting workplaces.

As a first step employers were reminded that they can bar workers who show symptoms of contagious diseases. The Ministerio de Salud also urged employers to promote measures of hygiene to include hand-washing. The ministry release said that hands and wrists should be washed vigorously particularly after a person sneezes or coughs. Plus workers should be encouraged to sneeze or cough into a disposable tissue.

Other suggestions are to avoid sharing work tools and to avoid exchanging personal protection items such as glasses and helmets. The ministry suggests that telephones, computer keyboards, mouse devices, printers and other machinery shared by workers get regular cleanings.

Finally the ministry addresses the Costa Rican custom of introductory kissing or hand-shaking and hugging. The suggestion is to avoid such long-term traditions.

Employers are being urged to keep workplaces well
clean workplaces
Logo of ministry workplace campaign

ventilated, to make sure garbage is disposed of frequently and to establish hours of cleaning in workplaces. Other suggestions are to keep plenty of soap, paper towels or electric hand driers available.

For eating places, the ministry said workers should intensify sanitary methods to keep infectious pathogens at bay.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 148

Rival plan emerges to defuse Honduran political situation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

As President Óscar Arias Sánchez is in Guanacaste promoting his San José Accords to visiting heads of state, a rival plan has emerged in Washington.

Two U.S. congressmen visited Honduras and are now suggesting that interim President Roberto Micheletti could step down and José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the ousted president, could return to take his chances with a Honduran court.  If Zelaya is found innocent, he could resume his job as president, according to the proposal.

The new proposal varies from the Arias plan in which Arias seeks the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya. That is something Micheletti said would not happen.

Meanwhile, Zelaya is threatening to take to the hills of Honduras following the example of Fidel Castro.

Arias was at the XI Cumbre del Mecanismo de Diálogo y Concertación de Tuxtla in the JW Marriott at Hacienda Pinilla in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, Tuesday night. He again called for negotiations instead of confrontation. Zelaya was supposed to attend, but he accepted the invitation before the Honduran military kicked him out of the country June 28 and flew him to Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday it has revoked U.S. diplomatic visas held by four members of the interim government in Honduras and is reviewing visas of other members of the Micheletti administration. The move is seen as an effort to increase pressure for the return of  Zelaya.

The Obama administration has frozen military and some other U.S. aid programs for Honduras because of the June 28 coup that ousted President Zelaya, and it is now targeting members of the interim administration who hold U.S. visas.

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said diplomatic visas of four officials in the interim government had been revoked and that similar visas held by other members of that government and their family members are under review.

Kelly did not identify the Honduran officials affected by the move but said they had obtained U.S. diplomatic visas before the ouster of Zelaya and are serving in the interim government.

The State Department action did not sit well with U.S. Rep Connie Mack, a Republican from Florida.  He is the ranking Republican of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. He said in Washington that the decision to revoke the visas of several Honduran officials, including the vice president of the supreme court, was misguided and reckless.

It was he and U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, a California Republican, who visited Honduras and came up with the
substitute plan. Said Mack:

"Having returned from a trip to Honduras this past weekend where I met with President Micheletti, members of the national congress, the supreme court president, Honduran and American businessmen and human rights organizations, it is clear that the Honduran people want a peaceful, lawful resolution to the upheaval. They don’t want the United States to cut off aid to their country. They don’t want our country to pull diplomatic visas. And they don’t want us to stand with the thugocrats of the Western Hemisphere like Hugo Chávez.

“The Honduran people, in their fight for freedom from the tyranny of Manuel Zelaya, have earned our support and deserve to have the United States stand with them as they seek freedom and democracy for their country.”

The United States and all other member countries of the Organization of American States have refused to recognize the Micheletti government and have demanded the restoration of democratic order in Tegucigalpa, including the reinstatement of Zelaya.

Spokesman Kelly indicated under questioning the visa action is another incremental step to show U.S. displeasure with the current state of affairs in Honduras.

"It is part of overall policy towards the de facto regime down there. You know that we have a policy of not recognizing the administration of Roberto Micheletti. And it's a step that we've taken to be consistent with our policy," Kelly said.

Despite the visa action, the United States has not severed diplomatic relations with Honduras. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa remains open to, among other things, servicing the needs of Americans living in or visiting that country.

The embassy has shunned meetings with Micheletti and others in his administration. But Kelly says it has remained in contact with members of the Honduran congress on efforts to restore Zelaya to office through mediation by Arias.

Zelaya, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Communist Cuba, was removed from office and deported by the Honduran military as he sought a referendum that could have extended his term in office, which ends in January.

Micheletti supporters say his installation was approved by the country's congress and supreme court and is lawful.

Spokesman Kelly Tuesday again urged Zelaya, who briefly entered Honduran territory at a Nicaraguan border post last week, to avoid precipitous actions that could undermine the Arias mediation effort. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Zelaya in Washington earlier this month though the ousted leader has since complained of insufficient U.S. political support.

The heads of state meeting in Guanacaste likely will pass some resolution in support of Zelaya.

Caribbean tourism officials unhappy with closure order for two police stations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Caribbean tourism officials are protesting an order by the health ministry to close both the police station in Cahuita and the one in Puerto Viejo.

The Ministerio de Salud issued the order because of what it said is the unhealthy conditions of the structures.

The Cámera de Tuirsmo Caribe Sur released a letter Tuesday that its vice president, Luis Videla, sent to Janina del Vecchio, the security minister.

He said the closure order would leave the area without a police presence.
He seeks to meet with the minister to avoid the closing of the police stations.

"We are not able to afford ourselves the luxury of remaining without police stations," he said. He added that tourism operators and associations in the area have tried to help the police, but their efforts have not always been supported by police commanders.

As an example he noted that a pump and 1,000-liter pressure tank was purchased for the Puerto Viejo station in May but has not yet been installed.

He said that two development associations in the area also sought a meeting with Ms. del Vecchio.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 148

Casa Alfi Hotel

Despite economic problems
Chávez still has tight reins

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela's economy is struggling, weighed down by declining oil revenues and the mandates and initiatives of President Hugo Chavez's brand of socialism. So says a panel of Venezuelan economists and analysts who are visiting Washington this week. Although experts say the Venezuelan economy is underperforming, they do not foresee a collapse that would loosen Chavez's grip on power.

Earlier this year, Chávez boasted that, thanks to his leadership, Venezuela had insulated itself from the global financial crisis and the worldwide economic slowdown. The Venezuelan leader said his country has been left untouched by a crisis that threatens the world. Chávez said the crisis could affect Venezuela, but that, "by the grace of God," 10 years ago the country embarked on a Bolivarian revolution to protect the nation, its workers and families.

But after years of rapid economic expansion fueled by oil revenues that grew eight-fold from 2000 to 2008, Venezuela's economy is stagnating, according to Caracas-based economist Asdrubal Oliveros, who spoke at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington.

Oliveros says Venezuela's gross domestic product is expected to fall by a half percent this year, with the country's oil industry shrinking by nearly 8 percent. The economist states that it is oil revenue that guarantees the viability of the Chávez economic model.

That model combines massive social spending with increasing government control and regulation of industry. The Venezuelan-born editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Moises Naim, describes the Chávez economic plan this way.

"Hitting the brakes while also hitting the gas at the same time," he said.

Naim and other panelists note that, until recently, record-high oil revenues and unprecedented government spending sent the consumption of goods and services into overdrive in Venezuela. At the same time, government price controls and state takeovers of key industries have decimated domestic production. The results have been rampant shortages of food and consumer goods as well as runaway inflation, which stands at roughly 30 percent per year, the highest in Latin America.

Venezuela's stagnant economy still could out-perform most of those in the region this year. The World Bank projects a 2.2 percent drop in GDP across Latin America, with Brazil's economy contracting by 1.1 percent, Argentina by 1.5 percent, and Mexico by nearly 6 percent.

Venezuelan political analyst Luis Vicente Leon says that despite the constant threat of government takeovers, investors are not fleeing Venezuela.

"Even in the middle of a crisis, we have a lot of money going around in Venezuela. The majority of Venezuelan investors are still in Venezuela, because Venezuela is a mine. It is an oil mine," he said.

Naim adds that the economic slowdown does not constitute a serious challenge for President Chávez.

"Reports of the imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy have been widely exaggerated. That has not happened and I do not think it will happen," Naim said. "I think that the combination of highly-concentrated political power and economic power derived from oil, regardless of the price, can generate a very long life for this regime."

The global financial crisis has also given Chávez a rhetorical tool domestically and on the world stage. Again and again, the Venezuelan leader has stated that the crisis has exposed the United States as bankrupt and capitalism as a failure and that he is more determined than ever to press ahead with what he terms "21st century socialism."
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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 148

Latin American news digest
Search continues for Hatians
who were on stricken boat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Coast Guard says it is continuing to work with Turks and Caicos officials in searching for nearly 70 Haitian migrants who are still missing after their vessel capsized Monday in waters off the coast of the British territory.

Authorities say as many as 200 people were on board the vessel when it hit a reef and sank.  At least 15 people were killed and 118 others rescued.   

The Coast Guard says that as time goes by the possibility for survival diminishes. 

Haitian migrants often take to the seas in overcrowded boats for the perilous journey from their country, which is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.  They are seeking a better life in nearby islands or in the United States.

The Turks and Caicos islands are located north of Hispaniola, the island comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Dalai Lama promotes values
other than financial ones

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, calls the current global economic crisis a lesson for people to think about values other than money.

The Dalai Lama is on a three-day visit to Poland, where he spoke to an audience of students at Warsaw University Tuesday.

He called the world's economic problems an "unfortunate crisis" and said people need truth and honesty in money matters. He admitted that all he knows about financial matters is that people cannot survive without money.

Latin American news feeds are disabled on archived pages.

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Real estate
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What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier
The contents of this page and this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  and 2008 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for details