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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 168       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Photo by Dani Morales
Why is
this girl

Reporter-intern Melissa Hinkley is happy because she just finished a 10.5 kilometer race and is experiencing that great feeling such an accomplishment brings.

She reports today on the country's racing culture and the folks who get up early every day to practice.

See her story HERE!

Diplomatic scene is changing in the U.S. backyard
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

The recent decision to reestablish the U.S. Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean Sea and South Atlantic Ocean has raised concerns about military intervention in Latin America at a time when many analysts say the region is distancing itself from the United States.

U.S. defense officials describe last month's reactivation of the Fourth Fleet as an organizational move that will provide maritime security, drug interdiction and humanitarian operations throughout Latin America.

But Argentina, Ecuador and other countries in the region are questioning the reasons for the fleet's reactivation for the first time since the 1950s. Venezuela has warned the fleet to stay out of its waters and announced that it has purchased Russian bombers to defend its territory.  The Pentagon has tried to allay these fears, saying the fleet is not an offensive force and that it will not enter territorial waters.

Costa Rica's former ambassador to the United States, Jaime Daremblum, a scholar at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, dismisses fears of U.S. military intervention in the region.

"I don't interpret this as a return to the gunboat diplomacy of the early 20th century. The activation of the Fourth Fleet doesn't mean that they are going to start attacking any countries. But I think it's a signal that the United States wants to make. And it should be interpreted that way, not more than that, because there has been a great deal of noise on what's happening down south about the Chinese, with the Iranians now in several countries, including Cuba, and also noise about Russia," said Daremblum. "And I think all of that has to do with this particular measure," said Daremblum.

"The United States is growing increasingly apprehensive that China and Russia are selling arms to Latin American countries, including Venezuela," said the Director of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, Larry Birns. He adds that the change in U.S. naval forces also coincides with Latin America's shift toward regional integration and move away from U.S. policies.

"The United States is beginning to worry about the rest of the world poaching on this region that traditionally has been favored as particularly close to the United States. So we have the resource diplomacy added to the military diplomacy on the part of China and Spain and Brazil and Russia — all selling arms. Venezuela is buying $2 billion worth of weapons from Russia. And China is a major seller of military equipment and a major buyer of energy, of oil," said Birns. "So Latin America is getting rich from all of these sales just at the time that it's becoming more and more politically defiant against the United States and determined to go its own way."

Latin America is coming of age, said Birns, with Brazil spearheading regional coordination and new institutions that promote economic and political self-reliance. One example is the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, which, according to Birns, resembles the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization of American States, or OAS.

"UNASUR is a gathering of exclusively Latin American countries. This is an OAS without the
United States as a member. And being added to it is a security apparatus, again under Brazilian auspices, which represents an extraordinary challenge to the United States. And it's very clear that Brazil is beginning to make its stand as a regional superpower and is no longer deferring to the United States," said Birns. "So this is a very vital area. They're signing agreements among themselves. They are making trips to otherwise rogue nations. This isn't your old grandfather's Latin America."

While some analysts argue that Brazil's efforts moderate Latin America's populist governments, Alvaro Vargas Llosa of The Independent Institute, a California-based research organization, says they highlight that the continent has split into two camps.

"One group of countries in which I would place both governments of the center-right and the center-left would like to engage the United States constructively to focus on economic ties and maintaining cordial political contacts," said Llosa.

"The other group — in which I would place the populist governments like those of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador or Nicaragua — would like to create barriers between Latin America and the United States and form a sort of "Anti-U.S. International" with other countries. They have not been able to separate countries like Brazil and Peru and Mexico from having a cordial relationship with the United States."

Also divided is Washington's policy toward Latin America, said Llosa. He adds that this is due to U.S. preoccupation in other regions and the different priorities various federal agencies have in Central and South America.

"You have agencies that are a lot more interested in the war on drugs, so they would like to put the emphasis on military ties with Latin America and on making Colombia a pivotal case for the rest of the continent," said Llosa. "But then you have people at the State Department who are much more interested in engaging the region politically and they have been even willing to talk to the Bolivian government, despite the very hostile attitude that the Bolivian government had vis-à-vis the United States, at least in the first few years of the Evo Morales government."

Not just Bolivia, said Peter Hakim, president of the policy analysis group Inter-American Dialogue.  After years of neglect, he said the U.S. is paying more attention to Latin America and retooling its foreign policy.

"The U.S. has certainly stopped pressing on Latin American countries to take an adversarial relationship with Venezuela. I think there is a great deal of recognition in this administration about Latin America wanting to have a more independent foreign policy, to have more diverse international relations," said Hakim, adding:

"And the next president simply should move forward with the recognition that Latin America has matured. It's doing pretty well on economic, political and social grounds, and there's every reason to be optimistic about the future."

While most experts say Washington should encourage Latin America to chart its own political course, they urge U.S. policymakers to keep an eye on what the Chinese, the Russians and the Iranians are doing in the region.

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police building
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Frontón building is scheduled to become art market.

Uncertainty seems to surround
future locations of police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police officers said they had no idea that the municipality may soon kick hundreds of them out of their downtown building

A mayor's aide said Thursday that the municipality will begin to transform the large police structure El Frontón near the Caja into an art market within three months. But police officers stationed there said Sunday that no one has told them anything.

To top it off, the mayor's aide, Rafael Arias, said that the Fuerza Pública officers will be moved to Pavas and to the kiosk or bandstand in Parque Central. But the security ministry said it no longer has the municipality's permission to use that kiosk. 

“In the original announcement, the municipality said they would let us borrow the space under the kiosk,” said a security spokeswoman Sunday. “But then for a number of reasons they changed their minds,” she said.

No one seems to know where officers will go if they cannot use the central park kiosk or the Frontón building.

As one of her first orders of business, Janina Del Veccio, the security minister announced in April that she would create a  new police unit focused only on San Jose's downtown. The unit, called Unidades Metropolitana, was to be based in Parque Central.  The mayor of San José, Johnny Araya, attended the presentation to show his support for the project.

Now there are more than 100 new officers crammed in the existing police Frontón building downtown. 

The security spokeswoman said Sunday that she could not confirm what the municipality would do with the Frontón building. And that legal representatives may be able to answer that question today.

The municipality announced the plan for the art market last year saying that they would move the mercado de artesanía in Plaza de la Democracía to the Frontón building. That was reported in January 2007. The art market along with the plan to repopulate San José are part of San José posible, an initiative announced in 2006 to refresh the downtown area.

police bandstand
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Police officers Raúl Ugarte Solano and Jorge Alvarado Morales are both part of the new Unidades Metropolitana and said they work out of the Frontón building. They said they were told about a month ago that they would not be using the Parque Central kiosk, which is behind them.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 168

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The entire running team came back on the race course to escort Vilma Lisac to the finish line.
on the way home
Photos by Dani Morales and Monica Morales

Racing is more than a competition, it's a Costa Rican culture
By Melissa Hinkley
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

I read that running is the fourth most popular sport in Costa Rica with soccer coming in first, second and third.  After running my first race in Costa Rica, I couldn't agree more.

I competed in the Fifth Reto Powerade race Sunday in the Centro Comercial la Ribera, Belén.  There were actually two races going on, the 21 K (half marathon) and the 10.5 K (6.2 miles).  I contemplated running in the half marathon because
medal winner
Author and host mother Vilma Lisac
I thought it would be a neat experience, but decided I would run the 10K because I wanted to be able to walk the rest of the week.  

The race was set to begin at 8 a.m. so my host family and I got there a little before 7 to warm up and stretch with their team.  They are on a team that trains for marathons and is composed of people who cover all aspects when it comes to physical condition, age, size, shape, gender and so on.  Their team follows a program devised by a trainer.

Once a week, they have group sessions where they train together as a team.  I trained with them last Saturday, which was actually my first encounter with formal running in Costa Rica.  We started at 6 a.m., which seems to be very common in Costa Rica because of the heat, and then ran 15 kilometers (almost 10 miles).  We ran as a team, although slightly spread out, weaving through the mountainside and passing coffee plantations, small neighborhoods and curious observers. 

I got a very unique tour through the rural parts of the western Central Valley that I would otherwise never have seen.  I noticed several things on that 15K run as I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and great companionship.  I figured out that running for Costa Ricans is not just about the competition.  Ticos value the time spent together as friends, as relatives and as fellow runners.  Running is something that bonds them together and gives them a passion to share. 

The support they show not only for team members, but also fellow competitors, is amazing.
At the Powerade race many participants were running simply because they enjoy running.  Others were there to lose weight and stay in good physical condition.  And, of course, there were people there who were training for other marathons, and they were ready to win the race. This combination of people made for a lively atmosphere, considering there were 2,500 people running, plus family and other personnel.  There were people everywhere bouncing around in their short shorts, sneakers laced up, and sweat beginning to drip.  The sun was shining, the music was loud and upbeat, and the race was about to begin. 

The actual race itself was somewhat uneventful for me.  I ran the 6.2 miles in around 50 minutes, so that was just a small detail when thinking about the whole experience.  The run was a cool experience though, because there were so many people along the way cheering runners on, handing out water and Powerade, and squirting participants with hoses.  I wasn't quite sure if they were squirting us to cool us off or because they thought it was funny. Either way it just added to the experience. 

When I finished the race, there were many on the team who were still running.  Most people went and refreshed themselves with complimentary drinks and fruit, but as members from my team would finish, they would stay around and cheer as their teammates crossed the finish line.  My host mom here in Costa Rica just started running about a year ago, and she is training for the Chicago Marathon in October.  During this race she was running the half marathon.  Although she is not as fast as some of the other speedy runners, she is a trooper.  As the organizers were taking down their booths and picking up trash, she was still running.  She didn't finish the race alone though.  No, she finished the race in 2 hours and 45 minutes with her entire team following behind her for support.  My new favorite phrase is “Ya lo tiene”, which basically means, “you can do it!”    

So, as I have been thrown head first into the culture of running, I have realized that running in Costa Rica is so much more then just running.  It is not hard to become involved in the culture. All that is necessary is a pair of sneakers, a good attitude, and a friend to squirt you with the hose.  There is a race nearly every weekend somewhere. To see results from past races and to check out upcoming races, those interested can visit

Sardinal residents present demands to environment minister
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A committee in Sardinal, Guanacaste, wrote a letter to the government asking for justice in the case of water pipeline. They also asked that the government fire the president of the water company, according to the Hermosa Activist Group.

The group, El Comité de Lucha por el Agua de Sardinal, Guanacaste, addressed the letter to the minister of Ambiente y Energía, Roberto Dobles, saying it could not count on the municipality to defend the organization members, according to a release from the Hermosa group.

In May Sardinal municipal officials decided to paralyze work on the new water line between Sardinal and Playas del Coco in May after members of the community turned up at a meeting and refused to leave until a decision was made. That meeting followed street protests. Protests have continued since then and construction has not been resumed. 

The letter made a number of requests to the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia including the following:

• That all legal actions against the people of Sardinal be dismissed because the people's fight for water was just and legal.

• The letter also asked for officials to suspend construction
of the water pipeline until a reasonable and integral zoning plan is constructed.

• That legal action be taken against the officials who allowed the mismanagement of the project to take place.

• That the Servicio Nacional de Aguas Subterráneas conduct a study of the aquifer in order to have an accurate and up to date tool for the assessment of the water ministry.

• The creation of a community committee to regulate civil control over sustainable development in Sardinal. 

• The developers themselves must analyze other water alternatives for their projects including desalinization of the coastal waters.

• That the negotiation and final meeting for the water pipeline take place in Sardinal.

The freezing of construction on the line has resulted in significant financial loss to developers on the coast. Many construction projects are in limbo because they have no water supply. The developers initially put up the money for the 6-mile water line so that the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantrillados could build it.

Dobles is expected to send reports of studies conducted on the Sardinal aquifer to a panel that includes the head of the  Acueductos y Alcantrillados and Aguas Subterráneas.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 168

Bylaws are the key to comfortable living in a condo complex
By Angela Jimenez Rocha
and José Manuel Hildago*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
Most new buyers of property are now seeking the protection of gated, guarded condo complexes whether these are high-rise or single-family living units under the condominium law known here in Costa Rica as Ley de Horizontal.

However, after attending several annual meetings of some of the most famous condo projects over the years, the authors have discovered almost none of the new owners has done the homework in understanding the bylaws and the workings of the administration of these projects.

First owners and would-be owners must read the bylaws which by Costa Rica statute are in Spanish. For North American expatriates, a certified legal English translation should be obtained.  Next owners and would-be owners  should make an appointment with a qualified person who can explain the terms since the English translation may not be fully definitive.

The bylaws may establish an administrator who has all the power to collect maintenance fees and administer the project. There may be a board that does this, or there may be any combination of the two.  Usually the developer controls this process, and that is what would-be owners must watch out for since the developer has a much different agenda than residents, in most cases.  Too often the bylaws have no teeth for enforcement to solve problems that arise.  What most buyers do not understand is that the bylaws are as important as the physical dimensions and appearance of the condo.

In this country No. 1 is telephone service, which is not a given like in the States.   Usually the condo association must donate the easements needed to connect telephones since usually there is a central box for connecting all the telephones of the complex.  Too often this can take 
months if not years, so a buyer may own a new condo with no telephone service.  José Hidalgo, one of the authors, fought for six years at a project which featured homes in the $3 million range to get telephones installed due to an easement problem.

Angela Jiménez, the other author, has watched promotional material which indicates beautiful views for new condos, but the developer neglects to explain he will be building and blocking those views once he sells out the first structure.   Going to the municipality and the Instituto Nacional de Vivienda, known as INVU and the institute which oversees condo projects, is obligatory to see exactly what is permitted and what might take place..

The best new condo developments offer a fiduciary program where a bank guarantees the developer will transfer deeds as promised once final payment is made. Most projects sell on the basis of 20 percent deposit and final payment when building containing the buyer's unit is complete.  A fiduciary program gives the buyer protection.

A buyer must use horse sense here and understand that there are tradeoffs.  Once the building is complete, the prices of units have moved up substantially over the past years not just because they are complete but the cost of materials keeps rising.

These are just a few of the items to consider but the authors recommend doing serious homework with qualified professional advisors independent of the developer’s sales office first.

*Angela Jiménez is a licensed appraiser and architect.  José Hidalgo is a lawyer. Both will be speaking at a free seminar in late September sponsored by Toyota Costa Rica and Orbit Real Estate.   This is oriented toward newcomers to Costa Rica who want to get advice from experienced professionals.  They may be reached at

Venezuela does to México what México did to others
By Phil Mattingly*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
What goes around, comes around

It is ironic how history repeats itself as was displayed in Venezuela.  The Chávez socialist government sent in the national guard to physically take over all the operations and assets of Cemex of Venezuela, the largest cement producer in the country.  The government has offered to pay for the operations that Cemex refused to sell, but at a price thought to be 40 to 50 percent below its true value.
Cemex is a Mexican company that is publicly traded, including as American depository receipts on the New York Stock Exchange.  The Mexican government is a large shareholder in Cemex.

Cemex is one of the largest and most successful cement companies in the world, but Chávez wanted the cash flow it generated in Venezuela to pay for his social revolution.
It was a similar socialist movement in Mexico during the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas in 1938 that expropriated all the oil fields and refineries that had been developed and paid for by foreign oil companies (Shell, Standard Oil of New Jersey, etc).  In spite of the fact that the foreign companies were invited in and contracts signed by the Mexican government and these foreign companies took enormous risk, they were taken over and the foreigners sent packing.  Payment was eventually made in a take-it-or-leave-it' offer years later to the foreign companies at centavos on the dollar of their true worth.
The "what goes around, comes around" part of this story is that Venezuela has now done to the Mexicans what the Mexicans did to the foreign oil companies.
The sad truth that history has taught us is that all socialist  governments cannot possibly provide to the poor what they promise without money.  They can print the money, which leads to destructive inflation, tax those that have, or a quicker solution is to steal existing companies that produce large amounts of cash.  Many countries of the world are experimenting with another cycle of socialism.  Venezuela, Perú, Ecuador, Bolivia, Russia and others are all after the low-hanging fruit.  Where are the easy places to pick fruit?  Why, banks, insurance companies, mining companies, oil, gas and other industries essential to any nation.
Sadly, tempting, low-hanging fruit is harder to find in Costa Rica.  Óscar Arias and his gang have to be content with profits from refining and selling petroleum to the public, insurance company, electricity and telephone, alcohol production, and did I mention astronomical import taxes on things the public needs?  

There is a hidden cost with any government in control of this easy fruit.  All of these industries are quickly filled with incompetent, spoils system employees that don't have to make a profit or compete and spend their time protecting their turf.  Unions find easy pickings here also to help the 'haves' maintain what they have.  It is estimated that PEMEX, the Mexican oil company, has over 20,000 employees that it does not need to operate efficiently.
When you look closely at how this works, and how Central American Free Trade Agreement threatens all of this easy fruit, it is a wonder that the treaty passed at all.  But the majority of the public wanted it, so here we go.  Save some fruit for me.  I want some of that stuff that you don't have to work so hard to reach.

*Mr. Mattingly of Salt Lake City, Utah, is a frequent visitor and observer of economic events.

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traffic light theft
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales
Computerized traffic control system used to be in this steel box.

'Igor, get me some brains!'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When one assembles a list of items to steal, the computerized traffic light system, the so-called brains, does not rank very

But the Fuerza Pública said that a man lifted the device from a steel box high on a pole in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados about 4:15 a.m. Saturday.

Police quickly captured a suspect, identified as Douglas Rodríguez Ruiz, but never really got a good answer to the question of what a thief would do with a unique piece of junk. Miguel Arroyo Torres of the Fuerza Pública in Alajuelita took the
theft suspect
Suspect Rodríguez
suspect to a holding cell in Goicoechea.

Thefts of the copper wires associated with traffic control signals have been blamed for serious accidents, and police have had some success cracking down on the junk yards that would buy devices like the traffic control system.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 168

Costa Rican Olympic team finishes well out of the money
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the 2008 summer Olympics come to an end, the Costa Rican athletes return home empty handed.  Kristopher Moitland competed in taekwondo in the over 80 kilogram division.  In  his first round  Saturday he faced Cha Dongmin of South Korea.  Moitland lost the match 2-1 while Dongmin went on to win the gold.  Moitland finished tied for seventh in the competition after losing his second round match 6-5 to Akmal Irgashev of Uzbekistan.  

Federico Ramírez, also from Costa Rica, competed in the  
cycling moutain bike race also Saturday  Two competitors from France, Julien Absalon and Jean Christophe Peraud, took home the gold and silver while Ramirez finished the race in 47th place.

Saladino Aranda Irving Jahir from Colón City won Panamá a gold medal.  He won the men's long jump with a leap of  8.34 meters (27.36 feet). 

The last time Panamá earned a medal in the Olympics was in 1948, when Lloyd Barrington LaBeach won two bronze medals in the 100- and 200-meter sprints.  

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