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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2001
Costa Rican
real estate
dances to
its own
drummer
 

Only minimal effects felt
from dot.com debacle
and slowing economies

By Jay Brodell
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dot.com companies come and go, and national and world economies heat up and cool off. But Costa Rican residential real estate sales seem driven by other, more fundamental factors.

So local real estate brokers contacted by A.M.  Costa Rica do not see any major cooling off of the real estate market, although some admit there is softening in specific areas.

Two theories have been advanced to predict outside economic influences on Costa Rica. The more pessimistic theory holds that the failure of dot.com companies, principally in the United States, plus a weakening national economy there would result in a similar decline in real estate transactions and prices here.

The more optimistic theory suggests that dot.com multimillionaires, slightly bloodied by their firms' reverses, would take their paltry remaining millions and seek seclusion and rest in Costa Rica, thereby stimulating the market.

But telephone conversations with brokers all over the country fail to support either theory.

Instead, the Costa Rican market seems to be driven by 1.) major development projects and 2.) demographics of the United States and Canada that show baby boomers retiring in record numbers and living longer.

Jeff Lantz, a nine-year real estate veteran with the Osa Land Office in Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula in extreme southwest Costa Rica, said he may have lost a few deals thanks to the international economy. But "we're still having a boom here," he said.

"They just want to relocate. Period. And Costa Rica is a choice," he said of newly arrived foreigners.


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On the north Pacific Coast, Lorraine Mishaud, an associate with Remax Resort Properties in Coco, says now is the time to buy land there. She points to the 4,492-acre Gulf of Papagayo Project being constructed between Cabuyal and Playa Hermosa nearby. Prices of land will triple in the next five years, she predicted. 

Chris Hill, manager of Stuart Title, draws a distinction between the real estate market involving relocating foreigners and the much larger local market of sales among Costa Ricans.

The foreign market slowed a bit, but he said because that market always has peaks and valleys, the extent of the slowdown, if any, is hard to
 

determine. "It's nothing drastic. People are still coming and buying," he said.

The Tico market has not slowed, but because the Bank of Costa Rica and National Bank have developed attractive mortgage packages, private banks are issuing fewer mortgages. The sales are about the same, but individual mortgage companies might be experiencing dips, he said.

Hill, an 11-year veteran of Costa Rican real estate, manages a company that insures the real estate title for property buyers. 

His firm did some preliminary studies about baby boomers and their migrations to Costa Rica and relied on the State of Arizona and its studies on "snowbirds,"  those part-time residents who visit the state in the winter. 

The baby boomers, Hill, noted are inclined to travel and live outside of their own country in greater percentages than the generations that have gone before. And the countries to which they can travel safely and with reasonable comfort "are an incredibly small list," with Costa Rica up high, said Hill. 

"We could become South Florida, south," Hill said. That's the steady growth, and that's going to happen regardless of dot.coms."

Hill said that major developments that deliver what they promise will continue to prosper. "The developers who built the product sold the product," he said, giving as an example the Los Sueños development near Jacó on the Pacific.

Les Nunez of Remax First Realty, S.A., said that the under $100,000 residential market is very brisk. He detected some softening in a middle $100,000 to $240,000 market, while the top residential category of property over $350,000 continues to sell but perhaps with a longer time exposed for sale on the market.

His firm's market is dominated by foreign buyers, and a lot of those buyers come to Costa Rica with a specific purpose and are cash buyers, he said. Even the middle residential market that had experienced some slowness was beginning to pick up, he said Monday.

Alexandra Lancaster, another highly visible, successful broker, is hard-pressed to find a difference in the market. "We're very busy," she said, adding:

"But then I'm always busy." She heads the Alexi Co. and has spent 11 years in Costa Rica. 

Perhaps the best indication of the condition of the market are two related bits of information. Stuart Title's Hill said he just closed on a new house two weeks ago. And Ms. Lancaster said Tuesday that she had just hired two more sales agent.
 

Venezuela in emergency
 due to cases of dengue
From A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared a health emergency last week in response to the growing number of cases of dengue fever in his country. The mosquito-borne disease has caused some 600 deaths in Venezuela, with more than 24,000 infections, according to news reports. 

Dengue fever has not received the attention devoted to more life-threatening conditions like HIV/AIDS, but public health agencies have been watching its increasing occurrence across the globe with growing concern, the U.S. federal government reported.

In a 1997 document about dengue, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the spread of the illness "as a major public health problem has been most dramatic in the American region." 

In Costa Rica small outbreaks of Dengue have showed up in Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast and also along the Caribbean, according to Costa Rican health officials. But the outbreaks are nothing like the scale in Venezuela.

A fact sheet about the disease from the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that about 2,500 

million people are at risk of the disease in more than 100 nations. Prior to 1970, WHO reports, dengue fever occurred in only nine nations. 

Four distinct viruses cause dengue and the related condition, dengue hemorrhagic fever. Dengue is a severe flu-like illness that is rarely fatal, but the fever is a more serious complication that can lead to sudden death. Surviving a bout of the disease caused by one virus does not provide immunity to the disease, said the WHO. On the contrary, the WHO fact sheet says that serial infection may make the patient more susceptible to fever. 

Both CDC and WHO report that control of mosquito populations is the best way to control and prevent dengue fever. In the rapidly expanding cities of developing world nations in tropical climes, mosquito control becomes increasingly difficult and both health agencies cite that demographic shift as a likely cause of the rapid spread of the disease in the last two decades. 

Further information is available at 

http://www.who.int/emc/diseases/ebola/
Denguepublication/index.html 

The full text from the CDC is available at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/dengue.htm

Intel
comes out 
with 
2 GHz chip
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. Monday introduced the Intel Pentium 4 processor at 2 gigahertz (GHz) - or two billion cycles per second - crossing a key technology milestone and extending the PC's ability, the company said. 

Computer makers worldwide launched systems at the same time based on the new Pentium 4 processor and on other Intel technologies.

Intel has extensive chip manufacturing facilities in Costa Rica, but the implications of the new chip on work here could not be determined immediately.

The support for the Pentium 4 processor reflects the strength of the design, said Louis Burns, vice president and general manager, Intel's Desktop Platforms Group. "The combination of Intel processor and platform technologies and industry innovation provides the foundation for the next decade of desktop computing."

Intel and more than 40 software vendors and computer manufacturers demonstrated a range of new applications and products optimized for the Pentium 4 processor for both consumers and business users. Technological advances are enabling computer makers to offer a variety of Pentium 4 processor-based systems, ranging from the highest-end configurations to systems under $1,000, the company said.

The World's Highest Performance Desktop Microprocessor Systems based on the Pentium 4 processor at 2 GHz can create and share digital media up to 81 percent faster than a computer with a Pentium III processor at 1 GHz, the company said. The Pentium 4 processor at 2 GHz also enables business users to increase productivity more than 50 percent compared to a Pentium III processor at 1 GHz, especially in multitasking environments where background tasks like virus checking, encryption and file compression increase the processor workload, it added.

Intel also previewed its upcoming 845 chipset. The new SDRAM-based 845 platform will provide key cost reductions and greater user choice, enabling a new, high volume mainstream platform for business, the company said. A chipset holds the microchip and links it to the rest of the computer.

The Pentium 4 processor at 2 GHz is manufactured on Intel's high-volume, 0.18-micron process technology, and is available now, the company said.   In 1,000-unit quantities, the 2 GHz version is priced at $562. Intel also announced a 1.9 GHz version priced at $375. Intel is shipping boxed Intel Pentium 4 processors up to 2 GHz to distributors and system builders worldwide.

Intel, the world's largest chip maker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking and communications products.

Budget office reports
Social Security on block
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office says the government will use about $9 billion of Social Security revenue to balance its budget this year. 

The non-partisan CBO report was leaked Monday and officially released Tuesday. It disputes a rosier White House forecast issued last week that suggested the government would just avoid using Social Security funds this year. Both the president and Congress have pledged not to tap those funds. 

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting the total budget surplus for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 at $153 billion, a decrease of 45 percent in four months. 

The new report blames the shrinking surplus on President Bush's tax cut and a sluggish economy. 

The numbers could severely impair the ability of the president and Congress to fund their priorities which include: increasing education and defense spending, providing a Medicare prescription drug benefit and paying down the national debt. 

Meanwhile, the Budget Office says it expects economic growth to run at a rate of about 2.6 percent in 2002, below the 3.2 percent pace projected by the White House.
 

British fear more surveillance

Laws designed to catch computer criminals could result in a huge increase in the amount of covert surveillance carried out on British citizens by the
police and intelligence services, BBC News Online reported last week.

The controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act requires many companies providing communication services to install technology that
 allows up to one in 10,000 of their customers to be watched at the same time, said correspondent Mark Ward.

 Experts and lobby groups fear that this requirement could drive a "tenfold" increase in the number of wiretaps and threaten the fundamental rights to privacy of many citizens, he said.

The story is available at:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/
sci/tech/newsid_1500000/1500889.stm
 

More money for Argentina

The World Bank has approved a $400 million loan for Argentina to help finance reforms and other social programs being implemented by President Fernando de la Rua. 

The World Bank endorsed the funds Tuesday, saying in a statement from Washington that the Argentine government has adopted a consistent and  purposeful approach to reform. Officials say also the loan is part of the bank's contribution to support Argentine efforts at launching a sustained    economic recovery. Argentina is in the midst of a three-year recession, and there have been fears it could default on its $128 billion foreign debt    payments. 

Argentina has been seeking international aid for its slumping economy  while the government implements unpopular reforms that include cutting  salaries and pensions of government workers by as much as 13 percent.  Last week, the International Monetary Fund approved $8 billion in  emergency assistance to ease Argentina's severe economic crisis. A delegation of Argentine financial officials met with the IMF for two weeks    in Washington to negotiate the funds. 

U.S. officials have said Argentina needs to restructure its foreign debt to make sure it does not need to keep asking the IMF for help to repay its loans.

McCain to have surgery

 U.S. Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, undergoes surgery Wednesday for an enlarged prostate. 

Doctors said McCain's condition is benign and common in older men. But an untreated enlarged prostate could lead to urinary problems. McCain's office says he will be treated at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. He is expected to remain there for as long as two days. 

McCain celebrates his 65th birthday Wednesday. He underwent skin cancer surgery last year. His office says doctors have found no further    evidence of the disease.

Labor leader dies in Bolivia

 Bolivian labor leader Juan Lechin Oquendo, 89,  has died in La Paz. 

Lechin was a major figure in the Latin American trade union movement as well as in Bolivian politics. He was the long-time head of the powerful Bolivian Workers Confederation. 

Nicknamed "The Teacher", Lechin first became prominent in the 1940s as an organizer of Bolivian tin miners. He was a leader of the 1952 revolution in Bolivia. 

Over the years he worked closely with three Bolivian presidents, Victor Paz Estenssoro, Hernan Siles, and Walter Guevara Arze, in developing labor and social reform. He was also known as a strong opponent of dictatorships. 

In 1971, he helped lead the Popular Assembly, a failed attempt at a democratic socialist revolution. 
 

Powerball winners in bliss

A couple from Maine who is sharing in the $295 million dollar Powerball lottery jackpot describes the last few days as "wonderful pandemonium." 

Pat Wales, 60,  and her 70-year-old husband Erwin told a news conference Tuesday they have not yet decided what to do with their sudden multi-million dollar fortune except to buy Erwin a new truck. 

Both say they have barely slept since last Saturday night's drawing. 

Two other mujltistate Powerball winners have already claimed their share of the jackpot: David Edwards, an unemployed former convict from Ashland, Ky., and Sheryel Hanuman, a medical records clerk and mother of three from Roseville, Minn. A fourth winner, who bought the ticket in Delaware, has yet to come forward.
 

Annan urges U.S. to go
to racism conference

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging the United States to take part in  this week's U.N. racism conference in South Africa.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Colin Powell  will not attend the U.N. Conference on Racism beginning Friday in Durban because of what it calls offensive anti-Israel language in the agenda.

But Secretary General Annan, speaking Tuesday in Austria, expressed hope that  Washington would participate at some level. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the exact nature and level of U.S. representation, if any, is still being considered.

Prominent U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson prepared to depart for  Durban later Tuesday to lead his own private delegation to the U.N. conference. Mr. Jackson has criticized the Bush administration for, in his words, squandering the opportunity to provide leadership on a subject in which the United States has a wealth of experience. 

While African American groups have criticized the U.S. decision, Jewish groups are supporting it. The Anti-Defamation League says Powell's presence would only legitimize the anti-Semitic rhetoric that threatens to derail the conference.

Meanwhile, a conference of non-governmental agencies is meeting in Durban ahead of the U.N. conference. South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the meeting with a call for all nations to commit to eradicating the legacy of slavery, colonialism and racism. 

The issue of reparations for slavery caused deep divisions during the planning for Friday's U.N. racism conference. U.S. officials have criticized proposals to discuss reparations, saying the conference should look forward, rather than dwell on the past. 
 

Environmentalists sue
over missile defense

Eight environmental groups have filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the Pentagon to show how President Bush's missile defense program and a    proposed test range in Alaska will affect the environment on the West Coast. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a lead organization in the suit, demands new studies of the environmental effects of proposed missile    defense testing on the Pacific Ocean region between Alaska, Hawaii, California, and the Marshall Islands. 

The Pentagon has said it wants to begin work on the test range at Fort Greely, Alaska, early next year. But a researcher for the council, Christopher Paine, says the coalition will ask for an injunction to block the work unless the Pentagon agrees to do new environmental impact studies. 
 

Algerian indicted as terrorist

A London-based Algerian man has been indicted on terrorism-related charges by a U.S. federal grand jury. 

The indictment filed Monday in New York says Haydar Abu Doha conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up the Los Angeles  International Airport during the 2000 millennium celebrations. 

The indictment portrays Abu Doha as a key figure in terrorist operations tied to exiled Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden. Abu Doha is also accused of providing support to Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested in December 1999 and convicted in April of conspiring to commit an act of international terrorism. 

The plan to blow up the Los Angeles airport was foiled when Ressam was caught trying to enter Washington state from Canada in a car loaded with explosives. Abu Doha is in custody in London, awaiting extradition to the United States.
 

Cuba won't use U.S. coins

Cuban authorities will no longer allow the use of U.S. coins as currency for purchases in stores and deposit in banks. Paper U.S. dollars are still    acceptable. 

The Central Bank of Cuba announced Tuesday that after Oct. 15 only Cuban-minted convertible peso coins, pegged in value to fractions of the U.S. dollar, will be acceptable as small change in the country. 

Many people living in Cuba receive dollar remittances from relatives living in the U.S., while tourist workers on the island receive tips in dollars. Transactions in U.S. currency were legalized in Cuba in 1993, as an    economic reform measure following the collapse of Soviet Communism. 

Appliances, as well as other imported consumer goods, as well as items in limited supply, are typically available only for dollars or convertible pesos.

Bomb defused near U.S. consulate

Italian police have defused a small bomb placed near the U.S. consulate in Florence. 

Consulate security staff found the device early Tuesday and notified authorities. Police described the bomb as home-made, consisting of an explosive placed inside a shoebox. 

Investigators found a pro-Palestinian leaflet at the scene, but there was no claim of responsibility. The consulate has not commented on the incident. 
 

Man faces murder charges in fire

Police in Mendocino County in northern California have charged a man with murder for allegedly starting the campfire that spread into a wildfire and led to the deaths of two firefighters. 

The two dead men were piloting firefighting planes that collided in mid-air late Monday. 

Police arrested Frank Brady and are holding him without bail. 

They are also investigating whether Brady and a second unidentified suspect were operating a laboratory in the woods where the fire broke out. 

The two firefighting planes were dumping fire retardant when they collided near Hopland, Calif., about 160 kilometers north of San Francisco. . 
 

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