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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Sept. 1, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 173       E-mail us
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Faltering real estate market presents opportunities
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A personal trip to the Parrita-Quepos area to look at property and meet with real estate agents turned out to be an invaluable experience.  The real estate slowdown is quite evident, but there is good news for well-informed investors.  Today’s deep discounts are tomorrow’s profits.

For sale signs are everywhere.  Property prices have dropped on some real estate 50 percent or more.  Some people have walked away from the houses they were building before completion and assigned them to real estate agents with instructions to sell them for whatever they can get.  Some condominium developers are selling their projects out using fractional ownership so they can make some sales and bring in badly needed cash flow.

A.M. Costa Rica published articles cautioning about the coming weaknesses in the real estate market starting in January 2005 when property values were spiraling out-of-control.   Later articles predicted that too many condominiums were under construction and this would cause an over supply.

In retrospect, 2005 surely was the topping out of the real estate market in Costa Rica and the beginning of the slowdown of real estate sales.   This is true in most market situations. When prices are crazy and people are willing to spend almost anything on the upswing, the market is ready to burst and turn around.

The slowdown started to show its nasty head in 2006 when real estate agents complained of fewer sales and prices leveling off or declining.  The events in the United States surrounding the subprime mess where consumers over borrowed on the equity in their home, perhaps to buy a vacation or retirement property in Costa Rica set the foundation for a turn around in real estate here.

This is not the first time this has happened in Costa Rica.  Old timers remember Costa Rica went though a similar time in the 1970s.   Property values were on the upswing and relative to those times, real estate was expensive and increasing in value rapidly.  However, with the onset of the Nicaraguan conflict and the United States embargo against the country, real estate sales abruptly entered stagnation.  

Values did not start to rise again until after the end of the United States embargo against Nicaragua in 1990.   Costa Rica’s real estate values started to increase slowly at first but gained momentum rapidly in the late 1990s.  This culminated into explosive growth and skyrocketing prices from 2000 to 2005.

Today, Costa Rica real estate prices are on the fast decline for several reasons.  Here are a few:

North America is in serious financial distress.   In the past, when the United States caught a cold, Costa Rica suffered financial pneumonia.  This is not as true as it was in the past because Costa Rica is a destination and retirement option for many other types of foreigners not just North Americans.  However, even today, when the United States is having troubles so does Costa Rica.  Usually, there is a lag time of around a year before Costa Rica suffers from the happenings in the United States.  This is also true during the recovery process. Costa Rica needs the same amount of time to begin recovery after the United States markets improve.  This means the bottom of this slowdown is just beginning not ending.

As stated in the article “How high can skyrocketing land values go?” New found paradises go through a defined cycle:  The phases to the cycle are exploration, involvement, development, consolidation, stagnation and, decline and/or rejuvenation.  Given all the development over the past several years, Costa
deep discounts

Rica is now ready for its consolidation and stagnation phase.   The slow down in the United States has not helped and is probably nudging the country into these phases prematurely.

Today, Costa Rica is at war.  It is at war with crime.  Crime is everywhere.  It runs the gambit from the highest echelons of government down to petty street crime.   The problem is the street crime is not so petty any more.  Many robberies are at gunpoint or worse, someone is killed.  The Costa Rican press is full of stories of students being murdered over a cell phone while waiting for the bus.  The problem is Costa Rica has not declared war on crime.  The country is just too complacent letting the criminals run the show.

The country had better wake up sooner rather than later.   In the past, Costa Rica’s proximity to Nicaragua made North Americans uneasy about traveling here during the Nicaraguan war.  The United States’ embargo put the nail in the proverbial coffin.  Most foreigners like to feel safe when they travel — especially North Americans — and when they do not feel safe they tend to avoid a destination in conflict.  The increase in crime in Costa Rica and the increasing world’s perception that Costa Rica is not a safe place to visit will stagnate Costa Rica’s growth even if the United States recovers from its financial problems.

For these and other reasons, the bottom of this slowdown is in its beginning stages not at the bottom, as some real estate agents believe.

Now for the good news for savvy investors.   Baron Rothschild, an 18th century British financier, is attributed with saying "The time to buy is when there's blood in the streets — even if the blood is your own."

This author is bullish on Costa Rica and feels the country will eventually get its act together — of course — in its own Tico time, but it will happen eventually.

There are some great real estate deals these days for investors and for those people looking to retire here in the future.  There are even better deals for those with cash.   Knowledgeable investors recognize bad times make for good buys.  Even though Costa Rica has probably not hit bottom, it is the time to start looking for property.  Real estate values have a positive trend over time and real estate values will sky-rocket again sometime in the future as it has done in the past.  Markets always do.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-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, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 173

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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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Real estate agents and services

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Airlines help New Orleans
prepare for hurricane


By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Airlines are geared up for what the mayor of New Orleans predicted to be the storm of the century Sunday.

Airlines like Delta and Continental encouraged travelers to change their plans and added flights to help evacuate New Orleans, Louisiana, in what some predicted would be a hurricane more devastating than Katrina.

So far flights into and out of Costa Rica have not been affected, although some gulf airports have been closed. But as Hurricane Gustav comes ashore today there is a good chance the operations at major airports will be curtailed. Continental has one of its three hubs at Houston International Airport, and the center of the storm is expected to enter Texas from Louisiana by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

None of the five major airlines servicing Costa Rica have direct flights to New Orleans.

At midnight Gustav was 170 miles (275 kms) south southeast of New Orleans. It seemed almost certain that the storm would come ashore on the Louisiana coast, although warnings extended into Texas and eastward into Mississippi and Alabama.

Hurricane Gustav killed dozens of people with estimates as high as 100, in the Caribbean as of Sunday, according to reports. The storm crashed into Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic last week.

Delta added three additional flights Sunday to evacuate New Orleans, according to an airline release. Continental said that on Saturday it began to add larger aircraft, extra employees, and additional flights into and out of New Orleans to assist with evacuation efforts. The effort was supposed to make room for 1,200 additional customers through Sunday, according to Continental.

The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport announced that it would close at 6 p.m. Sunday and that only ticketed passengers could approach the terminal. Some airlines chose to cancel other flights through towns on the gulf like Pensacola, Florida.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi closed at 8 p.m. Sunday and was expected to reopen Tuesday, according to its Web site.

American Airlines advised customers that tourists were not allowed to enter the Cayman islands because of a hurricane restriction from the immigration office there. 

Continental announced that today flights in specific Gulf Coast cities will be canceled or delayed through next week. Closures include Louisiana cities New Orleans, Lafayette, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, and Lake Charles as well as Gulfport, Mississippi and Beaumont, Texas. For an updated list of affected cities, travelers should visit continental.com.

Delta, American, and Continental all said they would offer customers a limited time chance to change their tickets for free if traveling through certain airports.

Delta's list included Panama City, Florida, and Pensacola, Florida, as well as the entire state of Louisiana, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

Over the weekend the Costa Rican emergency institute announced heavy rainfalls had caused some damages. At least 42 communities in Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Cartago, Puntarenas, Alajuela and San José received rainfalls since Wednesday, according to the institution.

Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, was hit the hardest when rivers overflowed. The emergency institution provided two temporary shelters for 62 people in Santa Cruz and in Grecía, Alajuela, according to a release.  Officials lifted a formal alert Saturday afternoon. But they are keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Hanna, which is following Gustav at a slightly higher latitude. The U.S. Hurricane Center said this storm was about 100 miles (160 kms) northeast of the southeastern Bahamas Sunday night.

Hurricane Katrina three years ago flooded much of New Orleans and adjacent areas and left at least 1,400 people dead.

By Sunday evening, city and state officials were pleased with the pace of the mandatory evacuation. Mayor Ray Nagin warned that looters will go straight to prison.

Rodríguez hearing halted
for constitutional appeal


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge has suspended again a preliminary hearing for former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría because lawyers have filed two constitutional challenges against technical aspects of the penal code, according to the Poder Judicial.

Rodríguez is facing four allegations of illegal enrichment and corruption stemming from the award of a cell telephone contract during his administration, which ended in 2002.
 
The prosecutor from Delitos Económicos, Tributarios y Corrupción opposed the new delay.

The first hearing that was suspended was more than a year ago, Aug. 27, 2007.

Rodríguez has made much of the delays that he has faced in his criminal trial. He even has written a book about the long ordeal.

That is why the Poder Judicial was so quick to issue a press release over this new delay. The release blamed defense lawyers and said the Poder Judicial was blameless.


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Police raid four more entertainment locations over access
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police raided and closed four nightclubs this weekend because they didn't have improvements like wheelchair ramps, said a security spokeswoman.

The security spokeswoman, Patricia Meléndez, said the four clubs were all in downtown San José but that she could not release the names.

During the raids, immigration police detained 10 women illegally in the country including one from the Dominican Republic and nine from Nicaragua, according to a release from the Ministerío de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Officers also arrested two men with warrants out for their
 arrest near the rotunda in Zapote during the raids. The first man who had the last name Patterson was wanted to face a drug trafficking charge.

The second who has the last name Zenan was wanted on an allegation that he made threats, according to the ministry.

Ms. Meléndez said the night clubs were in violation of Law 7600 or “the law of equal opportunity for people with disabilities.”  Ms. Meléndez said she could not comment on if the clubs had been shut down last month in the municipality raids or if this was the first time.

The raids were carried out by the Dirección de Investigación Especializada of the ministry, the Policía Turística, the Policía Especial de Migración, and officials of the Municipalidad de San José,


New political party will oppose free trade treaty with U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new national political party is taking root, and one of its major objectives is to oppose the free trade treaty with the United States and the so-called neoliberal policies of current political leaders.

The party is the Partido Humanista, and it is based on the  Comités Patrióticos or patriotic committees that formed to oppose the free trade treaty at the local level.

The organization also says that the Oct. 7 referendum in which the citizens approved the free trade treaty was distorted by fraud and overspending by proponents.

The party was supposed to have an organizational meeting Saturday and make plans to organize in all 470 of the nation's electoral districts, it said in a release.

Although the free trade treaty with the United States is almost certain to go into force in a few weeks, the document does contain steps for a country to withdraw.

So far, the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones does not list the Partido Humanista as one of the 14 registered national political parties. But there still is time.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana opposed the free trade treaty in the legislature, but with 17 votes, it was unable to
impose its will on the two-thirds majority stitched together by the Óscar Arias administration. Some radical opponents of the treaty think Acción Ciudadana failed to fight hard enough. Some of their suspicions were underscored when Epsy Campbell, the party president, was found to be receiving advisor payments from Casa Presidencial.

Ottón Solís, a former Partido Liberación Nacional executive, launched Acción Ciudadana and ran as its presidential candidate in 2002 and in 2006. In the first election he finished a strong third to the eventual winner Abel Pacheco of Unidad Social Cristiana and Rolando Araya, the Liberación candidate.

Solis forced Pacheco and Araya into a runoff.

In 2006 Solís lost by a mere 18,000 votes nationwide to Óscar Arias in a campaign dominated by the free trade treaty.

In addition to opposition to the trade treaty, the new Humanista party opposes what it describes as an oligarch in which the "political, social, cultural, generational, ethnic and territorial" powers are concentrated in a few hands.

Meanwhile, Araya, the 2002 loser, has left Liberación and seems to be on the verge of forming his own party, the Frente Social Demócrata, which accuses Liberación of being too far to the right.


Officials study priest's request to continue radio broadcasts from his prison
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials will study the rights of the Rev. Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar to host a radio program from jail, according to the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia.

The National Institute of Criminology, an agency within the justice ministry, is responsible for assessing the request of Calvo, to conduct a radio program live from the prison in San Sebastián, because it is the body responsible to assess and approve projects of inmates, said Casa Presidencial.

Calvo, a Catholic priest, presented the request Thursday
afternoon shortly after prison officials cut him off after he was on the air for a few minutes. He was using the public phone in a hookup with Radio Centro.

Officials said that Calvo did not have permission. Calvo was sentenced for fraud based on allegations that his previous radio station, Radio María, asked people for money for religious reasons and later used the money for other things.

Calvo was also investigated, tried and acquitted in the murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez. Medina was publicly critical of Radio María.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 173


Banco Nacional to introduce new system to decrease thefts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco Nacional will institute a new system that is supposed to keep crooks from stealing account passwords from Internet users.

The system, which only is generally outlined on the bank's Web site, gets half the password from the computer keyboard and the remainder from a number pad that is displayed on the computer screen.

Banco Nacional and other banks have been plagued by crooks who use customer passwords to raid accounts.

Banco de Costa Rica has distributed a card containing numbers that are supposed to be used just one time.

Banco Nacional said the system would go into effect Friday and that it uses Java Sun and ActiveX technology.
Banco Nacional officials have claimed repeatedly that failures in the security system were the fault of users. Bank officials claimed that unseen keyloggers were capturing the users passwords and distributing them to crooks. The bank officials blamed users who opened attachments that came with e-mails.

ActiveX actually makes a keylogger that it sells for less than $50 on the Web. It is designed to let businesses know what their employees are doing with the company computers.

Banco Nacional also has subscribed to a McAfee daily security scan which seeks to show that the site has not been hacked.

Banco Nacional released a number of requirements for using the new online system, and it is not clear if anything except a traditional PC will be supported.


Arias says that interest rate was the reason Chinese bond deal was a secret
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez finally made public the nature of the transaction whereby the People's Republic purchased Costa Rican bonds.

Arias said in a weekend statement that he kept the details secret because China gave Costa Rica a 4 percent interest rate, which is much more favorable than what the country usually offers its international friends.

Arias had been under pressure, mainly from opposition politicians and the Spanish-language daily La Nación to give the details. Arias said he was turning the information
over to the Contraloría de la República where it would become public information.

China agreed to buy $150 million this year and a similar amount next year, Arias said. The bond purchase, which amounts to a loan, was part of the deal that led to Costa Rica rejecting its long-time diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in favor of the People's Republic. Some of the bond money will go to construct a new soccer stadium in Parque la Sabana.

Arias denied that anyone in the country would get a commission from the bond deal and that all the money centimo would go to government budgets.


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This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us

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Mexicans march to protest
wave of crime, abductions


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have marched in locations across the country to demand a stop to a wave of killings, abductions and shootouts.  Scores of towns and cities took part in silent marches to show a united front against escalating kidnappings and murders.

In Mexico City, an overflow crowd of more than 100,000 gathered in the capital city's main square, the Zocalo. As indigenous musicians blew into sea shells to signal the start of the rally, protesters dressed in white, and cupping their hands around flickering candles, carried signs that read "Enough is Enough," "We want to live in peace" and "The Death Penalty For Kidnappers."

Most crimes in Mexico go unsolved, with corrupt police and justice officials often complicating investigations.
  Mexico is one of the worst countries in the world for abductions, along with conflict zones like Iraq and Colombia.

Violence has continued to climb in Mexico despite a crackdown launched by President Felipe Calderón after he took office in 2006. Calderon deployed more than 25,000 soldiers and federal police to fight drug cartels.

Aug. 21, Calderón called a crime summit of state governors and other officials to discuss ways to combat the country's soaring crime rate. Well over 2,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence just this year.

The summit took place following widespread outrage over the kidnapping of a 14-year-old boy found dead even though his wealthy father had paid a ransom.

Pineapple foes report
police ended blockade


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of pineapple cultivation in the community of La Perla de Guácimo said that police eliminated their blockade of the local producer.

This has been a long-running battle in which the residents claim that pesticides used by the producer, Tico Verde, has infiltrated the drinking water.

The community organization said it met with representatives of the producers Saturday at a church in Guácimo and presented their demands.

Among the demands are that the company cease production of pineapple and use the land for other crops. The community leaders said they would give the company six months to harvest any pineapple already in the fields.

After the producer gave a negative response, the community residents set up a roadblock that eventually was removed by police, they said.

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