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These stories were published Monday, Aug. 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 165
Jo Stuart
About us

Balloon payment makes seller a silent partner
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West.  There are prospectors, gamblers, gunslingers, and even saloons, and brothels.  One can find gold in them thar hills. Oops, them thar hills are the gold — literally.

Yes, all this is referring to Costa Rica.  The translation of Costa Rica to English is “Rich Coast.” Spanish conquerors gave the country its name because supposedly there was tons of real gold to be found in this country when they landed on its coasts.  Or better yet, maybe those who arrived hundreds of years ago knew the secrets most people are learning now.

Today it is not the gold people seek but the land.  Especially land with an ocean view, but all land is skyrocketing in value.

Prospectors are of a different sort these days.  They take the form of speculators — gamblers who bet property values will continue to go up and up and up for years to come. The problem is some are speculating on the money of innocent sellers.

This is how it works:

Let us say one bought a property in Costa Rica some years back for $100,000.  Today someone comes along and offers two, three, four even five times that amount.  Most owners jump at the chance to make that kind of profit on their investment.

The problem is the buyer wants the owner to carry back a mortgage for a significant portion of the sales amount.  Even then, most sellers jump at the offer, because they feel there will be a nest egg waiting for them when the debt is paid. They even accept deals with balloon payments five or seven years later, and the balloon might be 60 to 70 percent of the purchase price.

Watch out!  These speculators are using the scheme to buy property from many people, pushing balloon payments into the future amounting to millions of dollars and gambling the real estate market will continue to boom for years to come.

However, some believe this is not the case.  The current real estate market, although fundamentally sound, has a fragile pricing structure. Many outside factors can affect it. 
Too many things can go wrong, and as
 Murphy’s Law suggests: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

If something goes wrong anywhere in the world that would shake up investor confidence, the real estate market in Costa Rica would reflect the uncertainty.

Speculators would not be able to pay off all the balloon payments they have pushed off into the future, and people would have to foreclose on their mortgages, an iffy process in the Costa Rican courts. Raw land prices would tumble.

This is where the gunslingers come in.  Some of the speculators in Costa Rica are in bed with the nastiest of companions.  Their profession starts with the “L” word.

They do not want to give true mortgages to people because of the tax consequences.  True mortgages, once registered become the new value of a property at the Registro Nacional.

The L-word’ers in many cases use a variation of commercial paper to carry back payments, not as secure as a real mortgage, to help the speculators avoid property taxes. The problem here is most innocent people who have a lifetime nest egg in a Costa Rica property do not get the correct professional assistance to protect themselves in this fast-moving real estate market.

Truly Costa Rica today is like the Wild, Wild West of years past in the United States and Canada. Property disputes abound.  Neighbors move fence lines stealing property without a conscience. Property fraud is also rampant.  The courts are overwhelmed and impotent.  Some disputes end in bloodshed.

When selling real estate, here is some good advice: Try to get all your money now. Let speculators gamble with their own money.  Be skeptical if someone is offering you many times the value of your property.  If there is to be a mortgage, get a real one, not a commercial paper variant.  Get professional advice and assistance and be sure the sale and mortgage is registered correctly at the Costa Rica Registro Nacional.

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.  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 2005, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 22, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 165

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Paquera investor faces
preliminary hearing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Canadian tourist who offered $125 million in loans to the Paquera development association will have a day in court Sept. 1 when he will be the subject of a preliminary hearing, according to the Poder Judicial.

The man is Francesco Pecora, who managed to become general manager of Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera. Also facing the hearing will be Ileana Romero, Pecora's business partner, who became vice president of personnel at the development association.

Also at the same hearing will be Alvin Jiménez, the jailed former president of the development association and an individual identified by the last name of Araya.

Pecora arrived in Paquera in September 2003 when the association was in the middle of a serious financial crisis. The association runs the ferries that connect the community on the Nicoya Peninsula with Puntarenas, the administrative center of the province.

Pacora presented himself as a wealthy man who could back up his financial promised with bars of gold on deposit at a U.S. bank.

However, association members voted him out in May 2004 after an audit raised questions about Pecora's management. Shortly thereafter he was arrested in Hatillo on an allegation of passing a bad check. The fraud charge followed.
Big marijuana plants
found in Siquirres

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officers in Siquirres de Limón found three marijuana plantations containing more than 125,000 plants, some of which were more than 16 feet tall.

Officials said they were alerted by the farm’s owner of the plants’ existence.  He is Carlos Vargas Pagan, a former national deputy. The farm was large enough that drug traffickers could use Vargas’ land without him knowing.

“When we arrived, we found three huge plantations with plants over five meters (16.4 feet) tall.” said Pastor Reyes, Siquirres Fuerza Pública commander.  “They shadowed us. It was the first time in many years of this type of work that I had seen plants that tall.”

The plants were ready to be harvested, said officials.  As a result, their eradication could not wait, and Saturday at 5 a.m., several officers went to the farm to begin the work of destroying the plantation by burning the plants.

Dengue causes death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica suffered its first death from dengue since 1999 over the weekend. The victim was Christian Rodríguez Véliz, 24.  He died in Puntarenase leaving an 8-year-old child and a pregnant wife. The mosquito-born disease has sickened 14,000 this year.

Our readers comment
He questions columnist
on her gasoline facts

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I stopped reading Jo Stewart’s columns about a year ago because it was clear then that she was so terribly misinformed on such a wide variety of issues, there was no reason to continue wasting time. Her inaccuracies simply made her articles just about worthless.  It wasn’t just her opinions as much as the faulty data she was promulgating.

Saying that, I clicked the link on your front page today just to see how she reacted to the higher gas prices.

I was amazed that she still has no clue whatever about the subjects on which she write!


“I keep hearing that it is consumption that is causing this problem — “

No.... it is DEMAND that is going up!  A HUGE difference. The only way consumption is a factor is if the consumption statistic is worldwide consumption (which is then demand) and NOT per capita consumtion in one country or even one hemishere.

“Then I heard that consumption has actually gone up just 2 percent...”

See above.  Increased consumption in one country does not affect prices!  Demand for a limited amount of product in a marketplace causes prices to rise.  China’s DEMAND (and other countries as well) is what has changed. China’s demand alone with a billion and a half people is a huge driving force!  There is now more DEMAND for a limited product and THAT is what drives up the prices world wide.


“while some profits have gone up 50 percent” What!  “I heard”?  “some profits”, what companies?

Is this person a columnist? Please have her provide the source for this interesting piece of knowledge (aka nonsense!).  What profits?  Where?  What companies? What countries?  Is it industry wide or one company?

“(People haven’t cut back on the use of their own cars, so maybe this fear is unfounded).  “

WHAT??? Does she not read any newspapers here?  La Nacion?  Nothing?  Car useage is down enormously.  This has been published in several places, and I am fairly sure in A.M. Costa Rica as well.  Even if she can't read, anyone driving on ANY pista at rush hour can CLEARLY see the difference!

Frankly, I just stopped reading the article at that point.  There was no reason to continue.

Mr Editor: Your readers depend on you for accuracy!  Continuing to publish the writings of this astonishingly misinformed person reduces the accuracy, truthfullness and credibility of your online newspaper. It reflects poorly on you as the editor and, I presume, the owner.

At worst, her future submissions should be reviewed by a knowledgable editor for at least partial accuracy.  Clearly, they currently are not.
C.J. Benet
Santa Ana

EDITOR'S NOTE: As C.J. Benet points out, Ms. Stuart is a columnist and entitled to her opinions, as is C.J. Benet.

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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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Trails of vehicle lights show how motor traffic will compete with trains along Avenida Central in San José.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling

Taxi drivers have mixed views on new train proposal
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M Costa Rica staff

The planned commuter train between Pavas and San Pedro is getting mixed reviews from local cab drivers.  Some, like Gerardo Castro, are sure the train will cut down on business.  It's difficult enough for day-shift cab drivers to compete with the buses, he said, but when the train carries passengers business will suffer even more.

The train, which should start running in late September, will cost commuters 300 colons (62 cents) to ride from Pavas to San Pedro with two-minute layovers at each of the nine stops at terminals.  Officials estimate the full ride will take 61 minutes.  In comparison, a bus currently takes approximately 90 minutes for the same trip and commuters must make a switch in the capital.  The price is only slightly lower.      

Officials still have not announced a price for half the ride to San José, but Castro says that with a cab fare of about 3,000 colons ($6.20), he can't hope to compete.

The problem is that day shift cab drivers have to compete with buses and soon, the train, Castro said.  Night commuters don't have that option, and as a result, night-cab drivers won't feel the pinch as much as their day-shift counterparts, said Castro.   

Trains will run the planned route 13 times daily starting at 5:40 a.m. The last scheduled run departs at 7:20 p.m.  Officials hope the train will ease traffic,  
but part of the planned route will pass along the already-congested Avenida Principal. 

During test runs last Nov. 22 and 23, one car was smashed each day, and the train had to jockey with drivers through the congestion.  Officials hope that drivers will use the train, but cab driver Hernan Arrieta points out that cabs and buses – and eventually the train —  are used by poor people, not people who can afford cars. 

Some cab drivers aren't worried about the extra congestion.  One, Edwardo Calvo, is convinced that the train will do what officials hope it will do and he will have less people to compete with on the road.  As a result, the train passing through Avenida Principal shouldn't be a problem, he said.      

Costa Rica had train passenger service for years between San José and Puntarenas and also San José and Limón.  According to Arrieta, the train between San José and Limón took approximately six hours.  The same trip can be made by bus in around four hours.  He thinks that history will repeat itself here.  People will use the train because it's new, he said.  Then, once the novelty wears off, people will go back to using the buses and taxis because bus routes usually run closer to a planned destination. 

Two bus drivers, Noel who drives the route between San Pedro and San José and Manuel who drives from San José to Pavas, said Sunday that they thought people would use the train but they didn't really care one way or the other.  They get paid the same no matter how many people ride their buses, they said.

Daytime drivers think they have suffered more
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though officials raised taxi fares to help drivers compete with rising gas prices, local cabbies are saying they wish they could have the old fares back. 

Many day-shift drivers feel they are bearing the burden of the rising gas prices while their night-shift counterparts reap the benefits.  Night drivers say informally that the number of people using their services has not changed but day-shift driver Gerardo Castro has much to complain about.  With 45 minutes left in his shift Sunday, he had only 9,000 colons (18.63) in his pocket from his day's work.  In comparison, a week ago he made 22,000 colons ($45.54).  Most cab drivers work 12-hour shifts.  So Sunday, Castro was making approximately $1.55 per hour with which he also has to pay expenses.

The problem is that day-time commuters have the option of taking the bus.  In late September, some will be able to use the planned commuter train from Pavas to San Pedro as well.  Night shift drivers don't have to compete with these other services.

One driver, Hernan Arrieta, points out that for some people, taxis are a necessity.  Some people are too old or sick to take the bus, and as a result, taxis are their only option. 
“Taxis aren't for rich people who drive 4x4s,” he said.  “They're for people who can't afford cars.”  These are the people that are affected most said Arrieta.  For others, taxis are an addiction. 

“It's like Coca Cola or cigarettes or liquor,” Arrieta said, “Some people actually take taxis instead of eating breakfast in the morning.” 

Arrieta is hopeful that people will become acclimated to the new prices but he feels that the rise is too stiff too quickly.  The fare used to be 285 colons.  Now it is 310.  After Nov. 15 it will be 330.  The second and subsequent kilometers used to cost 160 colons.  Now it costs 230 and after Nov. 30, the price will be 300.  As a result, the longer the ride, the stiffer the increase.  Arrieta said that people aren't willing to pay double what they used to pay and after Nov. 15, he thinks business will dwindle even further.

It seems that government officials expected Costa Ricans to deal with rising prices the same way many drivers in the United States do: curse and dig a little deeper into their pockets. 

But if the first few days under the new fares is a trend, many cab drivers – who already net very little – will be struggling even more as their normal fares walk or take the bus. 

If you are frustrated by literally thousands of so called "realtors," insane pricing and confusing Web sites as you endlessly search for the perfect property in Costa Rica . . . . STOP!!
We believe that the area of GRECIA offers far more than almost any other area of the country for retirees and those seeking a beautiful and peaceful home in which to enjoy life while enjoying the beauty and security which Costa Rica has to offer.
WHY?  ..... read on....

Grecia is Central . . . 50 minutes from San Jose, CIMA hospital, the Multiplaza, sports and cultural events. . . . one half hour from Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela . . . and a little over an hour to the Central Pacific beaches!

Real estate properties in Grecia are still reasonably priced . . . prices here are about 10% of what they are in Escazú and about half of what they are in neighboring Atenas. Grecia is affordable.

The mountains of Grecia offer the perfect climate: 68-82 degrees all year round.

Grecia has its own hospital with excellent professional services and great shopping.  Every Saturday the town is host to one of the best open air markets in the country.  Fruits and vegetables galore.

Grecia is known as the "cleanest city in Latin America"

No howler monkeys or sloths here, but the area is home to countless flocks of parrots and literally thousands of species of birds and butterflies.

Coffee bushes

Fantastic views

 Bustling downtown Grecia

Because of its location and agricultural base (coffee and sugar cane) Grecia is green ALL YEAR ROUND.  

Crime is extremely low here.  No one worries about walking around town at night here.  There are still petty thefts, but neighbors here watch out for each other.

Everyone who visits Grecia and the area comments on the simplicity of life here.  Life here does proceed at a different pace and the lifestyle here takes us back to a simpler time that nearly all of us wish for but cannot have.  Family is still valued here, and Sunday is family day when extended families get together without fail. 

The builders, contractors and craftsmen here are old fashioned. They keep their word, they are excellent craftsmen who take pride in their work AND they honor their contracts. Most importantly, the properties we have available are drop dead gorgeous! Views, rivers, waterfalls, coffee, sugar cane, privacy.  We most likely have exactly what you thought you could never find. 

If this sounds like Paradise (or maybe that we are exaggerating . . .) come and see for yourselves before everyone discovers Grecia.

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Sometimes one simply cannot remain quiet
El que calla otorga

“One who keeps silent consents.” This is a wise dicho, but, of course, there are different ways of interpreting it. Let’s start with a fairly common everyday experience:

Often we witness people breaking the law, but we hurry away without saying anything because we “don’t want to get involved.” But, the fact that we witnessed an illegal act already involves us, and our silence makes us complicit in the act.

Earlier this year, my friend and I were walking to our local supermarket when we came across two young men who were clearly trying to rob an old unfortunate borracho (drunk). We did not intervene, but I did try to call 911 on my cell phone. Of course the connection was so bad that I didn’t know if  the dispatcher really understood me or not (thanks to our wonderful ICE, but that’s another story). Fortunately a few meters further along we encountered two municipal policemen on motorcycles. I asked them if they would drive back up the street and at least frighten those guys away who were harassing the poor old man. They immediately took off on their motorcycles to investigate. Then I felt a little better because I’d at least done something.

Of course, I would never suggest that anyone should necessarily try to personally intervene when they encounter a mugging in progress on the street. Muggers are often armed and the would-be hero might end up the victim. But it’s wrong to just hurry away and try to forget you saw anything. You can at least call for help. If you don’t have a cell phone, duck into the nearest pulperia (corner grocery store) and ask the owner to call police. But to do or say nothing means that you actually share in the guilt of the muggers because you are allowing them to proceed in their illegal activity undeterred.

These days my job at the large Big Ten university where I am gainfully employed is very interesting. I work for the Office of International Student Services and we are presently in the process of welcoming close to 1,000 new international students to our campus and orientating them to university and community life in preparation for the up-coming fall semester.

A lot of long hours and hard work are involved. My team has managed this orientation process for many years and by now we think we’ve heard just about every excuse in the book that students can come up with for not being where they’re supposed to be or doing what they’re supposed to do at a given time. International students’ most interesting excuses usually come when they try to wriggle out of the English proficiency exam.
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

When the exam date is announced they are always
silent, but later when they read in the schedule that the exam is to be given at 7 a.m., suddenly they find that their departments, let’s say mathematics or computer science for example, have some activity planned for them at that time. Of course, what they don’t know is that we coordinate this exam very carefully so that it does not conflict with any departmental activity. The truth is that they just don’t want to get out of bed at 6 a.m. in order to make it to an exam at 7. Sorry, I say but el que calla ortoga, or some English words to that effect.

Perhaps the most significant meaning of el que calla otorga has to do with speaking out against social injustice. One of the reasons that I enjoy so much my work as a country specialist with Amnesty International is that I can speak out forcefully against the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and have all the clout of a huge international organization with millions of members world wide behind me.

But it is equally important that we as individuals speak out against injustice and the things that take place in our world that we know to be wrong. Sometimes it takes great courage to do so. Consider the case of Cindy Sheehan, for example, whether we agree with her point of view or not, it must be granted that it took a lot of courage for her to speak out against President George Bush and the war in Iraq, especially right in Mr.
Bush’s own backyard, as it were.

Finally, today’s dicho points to the conclusion that if we perceive injustice being done to others and say nothing, who then will speak up should such abuses befall us as well?
So, it’s not always such a good idea to hold your piece. Sometimes we simply must speak up for what we know is right. Don’t be afraid. Try it. You’ll see too that you feel better about yourself for having done it, and you might be surprised at how many other people feel the same as you do.

Cuba and Panamá are back on speaking terms after a year break
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuba and Panamá have restored diplomatic ties, one year after they were severed due to Panama's decision to pardon four Cubans accused of trying to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and his Panamanian counterpart, Ricardo Duran, Saturday signed documents in Havana to officially declare normal relations.
Havana cut off relations with Panama on Aug. 26, 2004, after then-President Mireya Moscoso pardoned the Cuban exiles.

Her successor, Martin Torrijos, had vowed to re-establish ties after his inauguration last year.

Torrijos arrived Saturday in Cuba, where he attended a graduation ceremony at the Latin American School of Medicine along with Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Ecuadorian oil company resumes production cut off by protests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ecuador's state-run oil company, Petroecuador, has restored some operations that had been interrupted by six days of protests.

Company officials say production totaled around 33,000 barrels of crude oil per day Saturday. However, the rate was still far from the normal output of more than 200,000 barrels.

Army troops and police have been helping to restore order and oil production since the government
 declared a state of emergency in the Sucumbios and Orellana provinces. Protesters there have been demanding new contract negotiations with foreign oil firms.

They also have called for increased spending on infrastructure and social programs.

The demonstrations forced Petroecuador to suspend production and the government to seek a temporary loan of oil from Venezuela to keep up exports.

Most of Ecuador's oil exports go to the United States.

Jo Stuart
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