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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 178       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Party-crashing robberies prompt four arrests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A band of robbers has been systematically preying on homeowners who are throwing parties. The bandits come in the front door as if they were invited, pull guns and rob what they can from anyone there.

Some 23 high-class homes have been hit mainly in Escazú, Curridabat and Montes de Oca. More than 100 persons have become victims since the robbery wave started Dec. 10, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Investigators of the Unidad de Robos raided five locations Wednesday morning and detained four persons they suspect have been involved in the robberies.

Wednesday was the first time that the Judicial Investigating Organization brought the robberies to light.
The robbers targeted homes of well-to-do persons and for some reason seemed to prefer homes that were located on corners. The band would attack at night when there was some kind of social activity going on at the home. The event might be an anniversary, birthday party or some other type of fiesta.

Residents at these times are expecting guests and by the time they realized that the visitors were robbers, the chance to prevent a crime had passed. The men were heavily armed, and the typical guard was no match.

In an unrelated case, agents from the División de Asaltos detained two men, 23 and 24, Wednesday as suspects in a string of five aggressive robberies of bank patrons in Pavas, Hatillo and the center of San José. The robbers intimidated clients as they left banks. In addition to money, a vehicle, a motorcycle and cell phones were taken.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Students from Escuela Buenaventura Corrales, the so-called Escuela Metalica near Parque Morazán, strut their stuff in preparation of Sept. 15 Día de Independencia festivities. Photo is from a balcony above the line of march. Students all over are getting ready for the 185th anniversary of the nation's independence.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 178

Costa Rica Expertise
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Our reader's opinion

We are a disservice
to our many readers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is evident that A.M. has a bias against the current strength in the CR real estate market and has formulated an editorial position that it has stuck with now for at least three years that the CR real estate market is overpriced and headed for a fall. During that three years prices at the beaches are up 200 percent or more and in the Central Valley 100 percent.  So the reality of your position has been a great disservice to your readers.
I am a U.S. licensed real estate broker and builder.  I am currently an owner of several CR properties and am trying to buy more.  My personal observation of the market is that land — I am not talking about houses — is selling rapidly at near on or over asking prices, that little land is for sale and that sellers are not the least bit motivated and often won't call you back.  In my opinion, this is currently the best real estate market I have seen in 20 years in the country.
My Costa Rican banker friends who are all extremely positive about the local market — one who has been observing it for 50 years — tell me the following.

A.  The CR market has never followed the U.S. market except during the last few years — but normally it is quite independent — having crashed 1979 to 1989 during the war with Nicaragua while U.S. prices were generally rising, having boomed 1990 to 1995 when U.S. real estate was in severe recession,  having had a correction from the 1990 to 1995 boom in 1996, 1997 and 1998 while the U.S. was coming out of its RE recession.
B.  My banker friends tell me that CR booms while commodities boom because Latin America booms during commodities booms.  They point out that Latin America boomed 1970 to 1980 with 5-10 percent GDP growth rate in most countries every year during that decade even while the U.S., Europe and Japan were in severe recession.

This because of the commodities booms in those years. They predict that to happen again as Chile No. 1 world producer of copper.  Peru No. 2 in copper and silver.  Venezuela and Mexico top 10 oil.  Mexico No. 1 in silver and top 10 gold.  Trinidad and Tobago top 10 gas.  Also Colombia with huge reserves of untapped gas, gold, diamonds, emeralds, silver zinc.
The prediction here by smart locals is a big real estate boom coinciding with a regional boom related to high commodities prices.
So the locals say continued real estate boom while your readers sit out. You are being unfair continuing to report articles that relate only to the U.S. market.
Jack Wellingham
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our readers are not sitting it out, as any real estate broker who advertises in A.M. Costa Rica can report. Advertising here moves property. The No. 1 priority of A.M. Costa Rica is to protect expat investors by reporting scams and frauds as well as the day-to-day facts that people need to survive in a foreign environment. We preach caution, not abstinence.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 178

New, bigger ferry coming for Nicoya crossings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After three years the concession for the Puntarenas-Naranjo ferry has been settled, and transport officials said a new boat is coming that will cut down the travel time to 25 minutes each way across the Gulf of Nicoya.

The ferry is the one taken by many tourists who seek to visit the central part of the Nicoya Pacific coast.

The concession was awarded to Naviera Tambor S.A. which was operating the service along with the Asociation de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera. However, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes awarded the concession to Naviera in December of 2003.  The Asociation de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera filed no less than six appeals to the Sala IV constitutional court, the ministry said.

After three years, the ministry said Wednesday that the Contraloría de la República had validated the concession award. This was the last step. The ministry said that the bid by the Asociation de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera failed because the boat was slow, motors overheated and had only one end to exit.
Naviera, the ministry said, has agreed to purchase a new ferry, which is believed to be coming from Greece at a cost of 2.97 billion colons or about $5.7 million. The new boat will quadruple the number of cars that can be transported in one trip.

The older ferry will stay in service so that by the end of November at the start of the tourism high season both ferries will be in operation. The new vessel can carry 168 vehicles and 600 persons, the ministry said.

The docks in Puntarenas are known as a place where people wait a long time to bring their vehicles on board a ferry — sometimes for as long as six hours. There also is ferry service to Paquera further south on the Nicoya Peninsula.

The association ferry sometimes took two hours to make the trip from Naranjo to Paquera, the ministry said. The new boat will do it in 25 minutes, the ministry added. Consequently there will be more trips each day.

The ministry also said that new rates for vehicles and passengers would be announced in November as well as a new schedule.

Kids have no trouble condemning shark finning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are no apologies for poachers and shark finners at Kids Saving The Rainforest, an organization of young environmentalists.

The youngsters are paying attention to the news and recently put together a skit based on these environmental topics. It is called "Friend or Foe."

According to René Peters, a volunteer, "It's more like a melodrama in which we get the audience involved in booing the villain and applauding the heroes.  Amy Moon, our director, has done an excellent job in preparing these kids for their roles. 

"We don't have a huge budget for such things as props and costumes so we make do with what we have from home: duct tape and cardboard for the shark's fin, stuffed animals from the Mono Azul gift shop, etc."

A lad belly surfs on the ground with a duct tape shark fin pasted to his t-shirt. Soon other young actors, playing the part of Costa Rican fishermen mug him for his fin and tear it off. As in real life, he is dumped back into the make-believe ocean without a chance to survive.

A girl then plays a spoiled, little, rich Japanese girl who has her servants give her shark fin soup.

A villain in a long overcoat opens it to reveal other contraband: stolen parrots, titi monkeys and other hot merchandise.

The Manuel Antonio-based organization has done many projects to benefit the titi monkeys in the nearby national park. But Costa Rica has become a center of shark finning, thanks in part to lack of enforcement.

Photo by René Peters
The villain has his wares stashed in his overcoat for potential buyers.

A recent Sala IV constitutional court decision said that fishermen could no longer use private docks to unload their cargos. By using public docks the activities are more obvious, and certain agencies have been instructed to do more supervision.

Catching sharks still is legal, but the law says they should be brought ashore with the fin intact. The idea is to use more of the shark for food instead of just the fin, which is highly prized in Asia.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 178

An analysis on the news
López Obrador unlikely to capture any real power

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Now that the Mexican electoral tribunal has declared Felipe Calderón president-elect, the path should be clear for him to begin forging a new government to tackle his country's many problems. But losing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador refuses to concede defeat and plans to form a parallel government.

The announcement by the tribunal ended more than two months of uncertainty about whether the results from the July 2 voting would be approved or annulled. But the story is not over from a political standpoint since López Obrador rejects the tribunal's ruling and says he will hold an assembly in Mexico City in two weeks at which he will be declared president by what he calls "the people."

George Grayson, a top expert on México who teaches at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, just returned from México, where he observed the situation up close. In an interview, he stressed the need for Calderón to move forward quickly with a plan to help the more than half of Mexicans who live in poverty, many of whom voted for López Obrador.

"I think he will be successful, but he has to start by addressing the issues that López Obrador trumpeted, mainly the gross inequality between the haves and have-nots and, secondly, the pitiably low expenditure on health and education and job creation," he explained.

López Obrador remains camped in Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, with several thousand supporters. They have also blocked most of the city's main thoroughfare, Paseo de la Reforma. But Grayson does not believe that will go on much longer. He believes the protesters will be forced out before the celebration of the Cry-of-Independence on Sept. 15, which is to be followed by a military parade the next day from the Zócalo and down the Reforma.

Grayson says López Obrador will have to move on.

"He will move around the country. I think his presence will be positive, in that he will keep the pressure on Mexico's establishment to undertake reforms, but his will largely be a side show," he added.

Other observers in the Mexican capital, however, are not so sure. López Obrador seems determined to
remain in the Zócalo and recently called on the armed forces to disregard any orders to remove them. Members of his party, the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática have remained at his side in this struggle, but citizens of Mexico City are growing weary of the strife.

His party's senators and deputies last week staged a protest in the Congress that prevented President Vicente Fox from delivering his informe, or state-of-the-nation address, but Grayson says such antics do not appeal to state governors.

"The governors in the country, including at least two PRD governors, are pragmatic, they are results oriented, and they want to see Felipe Calderón succeed, because unlike legislators who can act like divas and simply spout purple rhetoric, the governors have to achieve things," he noted.  "They have to build schools, they have to construct clinics, and they are quite willing, in fact, eager, to work with the president-elect."

Grayson notes that López Obrador may proclaim himself president and hold rallies, but Felipe Calderón, after he assumes office on Dec. 1, will wield real power in terms of appointments, directives and budgeting of federal funds.

He says some Partido de la Revolución Democrática leaders are worried that López Obrador may be dragging the party down with him through his continuing protest. Public opinion polls show he is losing support.

Grayson says Partido de la Revolución Democrática founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and his son, Lazaro Cardenas, the current governor of the state of Michoacan, along with Zacatecas governor Amalia Garcia, are seeking to limit damage to their party.

"They have no love lost, whatsoever, for López Obrador," he said.  "They believe that he is dogmatic, that he is undemocratic, that he is secretive, that he is messianic. I think we will hear from not only Amalia Garcia, but Cardenas, father and son, within the next few days."

Since it was founded about 12 years ago, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática has grown into the second political force in the country, behind the ruling Partido Acción Nacional of Calderón and Fox. Some party members now see those gains at risk.

Nicaraguan foundation gets $14.2 million to promote free trade pact
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Agency for International Development has teamed up with a Washington-based public policy organization to promote economic and social progress in Nicaragua.

Under an agreement launched this week, the agency is providing $5 million and Caribbean-Central American Action is providing $9.2 million over the next three years to help a newly created nonprofit group, the Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Económico y Social promote opportunities for commercial investment in Nicaragua.  Caribbean-Central American Action promotes economic development, led by the private sector, in the Caribbean Basin.

The U.S. aid agency said the foundation will work for reforms that "transform the Nicaraguan economy from one that is dependent on the production and export of traditional commodities to one that is diversified, information-based, and export-oriented."  The agency said the Nicaraguan group will promote its reform program through public advocacy to elicit support for its recommendations from civil society and the general public.

The prime activity for the foundation will be to help
implement in Nicaragua a U.S. free-trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic. Nicaragua ratified the pact last October, said the agency.

The official said the U.S. aid will go through Caribbean-Central American Action, which will help build the capacity of the new Nicaraguan group in implementing the free-trade pact in Nicaragua.  In this context, “capacity building” refers to promoting enhanced economic prosperity and security by helping nations reap the benefits of free trade pacts.

Caribbean-Central American Action said in its own announcement that the foundation will "serve as a broker and catalyst for action in Nicaragua to accelerate the process of modernization currently underway throughout Central America." 

The agreement follows an announcement from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency that it has awarded grants totaling $1.2 million to help Central America implement the free trade treaty and strengthen the environment for economic growth” in the region.  The agency said that the grants include expanding capacity and increasing security at Nicaragua's Port of Corinto and at the international airport in Nicaragua's capital of Managua.

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Jo Stuart
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