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(506) 2223-1327        San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 183       E-mail us
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Strong zoning push to target maritime zone projects
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Foreigners developing on the coast are handicapped because there are little or no guidelines for development.  Guidelines for developers come from regulatory or zoning plans.  These plans are — in theory — designed to align the land and human activities to the best use of resources without depleting those resources.

In the past, foreigners interested in developing have skirted the rules, especially in the maritime zone.   In many cases, they have had to do so because no coherent rules were in place.  Today, the Costa Rican government is finally trying to regulate growth and building, especially on the coasts with integral territorial zoning plans.  Each one will encompass large areas.  These integral plans are coming for areas all over the country.

One very important integral coastal plan on the drawing board right now and of special interest to the government is for the Hermosa, El Coco and Bahía Azul area of Guanacaste.  The government wants this plan to showcase its interest in sustainable development and promote investment.  This plan includes an area of 200.5 hectares or 495.5 acres.

In Costa Rica a zoning plan for an area is referred to as a plan regulador. In the past, municipalities have had little or no money to create zoning plans.  In urban areas this fact means there has been building with no planning.  Development with no planning means no organization, and many subdivisions throughout the Central Valley and on the coast are suffering today because of this lack of planning and organization.

In the maritime zone, within the 150-meter restricted area, something else has happened over the years.  Private interests that wanted to develop property paid for zoning plans to suit their needs.  Many municipalities throughout Costa Rica accepted the privately funded plans to raise their tax bases.  In some cases, municipal officials personally enriched themselves working with private companies on these zoning plans.  Others just built without permission period.

To get a concession from the country in the restricted area of the maritime zone a regulatory plan must be in place.  Concessions are the vehicle people and companies use to make money in the restricted area.  For example, to build a condominium or a resort in this area, the country must license the use — through a concession — to the individual or company.  Only Costa Rican citizens are allowed to hold a concession.  However, this is another one of the rules everyone skirts by using Costa Ricans as puppets when applying for a concession.
The Procuraduría, the attorney general's office of the country, has tried hard to curb these practices, but officials have not had much success to date.  Many people in Costa Rica bend the rules and seemingly appear to get away with doing so.

The reason the Costa Rican government wants the Hermosa, El Coco and Bahía Azul coastal zoning plan in place so badly is because the country wants to prove to the world it knows how to plan sustainable development.   The government wants to provide developers a set of rules they can use in planning and get rid of the surprises that currently plague those trying to do something in Costa Rica.  This plan is indeed different for the following reasons:

1. The project is being paid for by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo — the tourism institute — not private companies or local municipalities.  The plan is designed to promote local as well as
international tourism as well as investment. 
map of zoning area
Area that is subject to the zoning plan runs about 13 kilometers (about 8 miles ) along the Pacific in northwest Costa Rica.

2. It is designed to organize and plan future development.

3. Protecting the environment and natural resources is a core objective of the plan.

4. Increasing the security of concessions for those people who have obtained them is of key importance to promote foreign investment.

5. The taxes generated in sectors where there are integral plans will help the municipalities improve and maintain important infrastructure.  This is a serious problem for coastal projects today.

6.  Access to public zones will be enhanced for Costa Ricans.

There is also another very important element to the new zoning plans on the coast, one everyone with property in the maritime zone should know.  Any structures within the 50-meter zone will be inventoried and probably be torn down.   Some structures have already been demolished. This is the public area from the mean high tide line to a point 50 meters inland.

Structures within the 150 meters restricted zone also will be inventoried and analyzed.  The analysis will be to determine whether or not the structures are legal.  Structures that were built without permission and permits also will be torn down. 

Many people in Costa Rica adhere to the unwritten guideline that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  In the cases where people used this method of building in the restricted zone, it may very well be the cause for the demolition of whatever they built.

Those who have obeyed the rules and followed the correct procedures will have their properties on the coast and in the maritime zone enhanced by the new coastal zoning plans.  Hopefully, one of the first ones for Hermosa, El Coco and Bahía Azul area will be everything it is cracked up to be, a serious plan for sustainable development and increased foreign investment.

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  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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Property fraud is alleged
with Banco Popular as victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained six persons Friday in a case in which a public bank lost at least 100 million colons (about $182,000).

One of the persons detained is a former agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization, according to the Poder Judicial. Searches were carried out at homes in Aserrí, Alajuela, Desamparados, San Francisco de Dos Ríos, Puriscal and Barrio Córdoba, said investigators.

The allegation is fraud by means of falsifications at the Registro Nacional. The properties subsequently were mortgaged, and the Poder Judicial said that the principal victim is the Banco Popular, a public entity.

Investigators suggested that the frauds being investigated were just the tip of the iceberg.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that fraudsters would put a property into the name of a co-conspirator. This individual, who appeared to be the owner of the property, would then seek a mortgage from the bank. In one case the property was sold to an innocent third party without disclosing that the property had a mortgage lien.

Some suspects are in flight, agents said.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that additional searches were carried out in Tibás, Poás de Alajuela and Oreamuno de Cartago and that those detained ranged in age from 30 to 55.

There was no identification given of the persons detained, although prosecutors said they would seek preventative detention.

Typically in such cases there is a notary involved. Under Costa Rican property law a notary, which is a specially empowered lawyer, draws up the documents and states that a sale has been made. Then the document is filed at the Registro Nacional. This is different than Anglo-American law where the owner usually has to sign a deed.

Consequently any notary could sell fraudulently any property on his or her own initiative because there are not barriers in place to prevent such fake sales. The only control is the honesty of notaries.

Four train cars coming
from Spanish rail line

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

He did not bring them back in his luggage, but President Óscar Arias Sánchez struck a deal with Spanish authorities for four rail cars that will go into service on the rejuvenated Heredia line.

Casa Presidencial said that Arias negotiated a preferential price with the state-owned Ferrocarriles Españoles de Vía Estrecha.

The term vía estrecha translates to "narrow gauge" in English. That has to do with the distance between the rails. Anything less that 4 feet, 8.5 inches is considered narrow gauge. Narrow gauge are useful in mountains and places where less than a standard-size trackbed can be installed.

The Spanish firm recently took delivery of new rails cars, according to its Web site. It also operates an extensive network of rail service in Spain as well as tourist trains. Some of the line is electrified, which is what officials would like to do here.

There was no indication of the price Costa Rica will pay for the cars or when delivery will take place.  Officials would like to have the Heredia line back in service by December.

 Our reader's opinion
Are those birds migrants
or are they residents?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The article [Friday] hit on different topics about migratory birds visiting here and further south for the winter in North America.

There is an added discussion on this migration by many ornithologists.  Are they really migrating from the North America or are they migrating to North America?  If we look at the total time spent in one area, the migratory birds actually spend much less time in North America and more time in Central and South America.  They actually only go north to raise a family and as soon as the family is ready to head south they do just that.

So the question, one may ask is, why would they fly all the way to the U.S. just to have their babies instead of just having their young down here.  There are several good reasons to go north. 

First there are many less predators to deal with when raising their young in a nest in North America. 

Secondly, the birds arrive in Spring.  Spring time is a time when insect populations explode.  Thus there is an abundance of food to feed baby birds. 

A third point is the days are longer in the north and there is more time to spend feeding those babies.  So as soon as these babies are able to fly a long distance the family is ready for their journey south to live most of their life, only returning to North America to have another family.

Henry Kantrowitz
Punta Leona

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Kantrowitz is a recognized expert on birds.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 183

three students and torch
Students from the Colegio Superior de Señoritas form the team that carried the torch part way in San José.
children with faroles
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Elise Sonray
Youngsters display their elaborate faroles in San José. These are creative replicas of 19th century street lanterns.
Runners do their job, and the torch arrived without problems
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The timetable was followed closely Sunday night as runners arrived in San José with the torch of liberty and then other teams of school children carried it to Cartago where the executive branch was assembled.

The weather cooperated, and despite rains earlier in the day, the evening ceremony was not dampened.

In San José, Laura Chinchilla took the torch from Mayor Johnny Araya and then used it to light a caldera that brightened the night. That was at 6 p.m.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez, as is the custom, assembled his cabinet in Cartago to await the torch. The evening was not totally comfortable for the president because a number of Cartago residents waved signs demanding a new hospital for the area.

A new hospital was not on the agenda, but earlier in the day Arias dedicated the new Museo Municipal de Cartago. It is in the former military headquarters there that has been used most recently by the Fuerza Pública.

In a speech, Arias hammered at education and said that the nation is injured by every child that is selling a cellular telephone case at a traffic light or every child playing hooky who buys crack on the corner.

"In order to have a future of liberty, a people first have to assure a present of knowledge," said Arias.

He said his administration has made a strong effort to keep children in school and he cited the Avancemos program that provides scholarships for school children. Arias said his administration was increasing the educational spending 127 percent in the 2009 budget.

Arias just returned from a European trip to find his administration under attack because it tried to keep secret a deal under which the People's Republic of China agreed to purchase $300 million in Costa Rican bonds at 2 percent interest. The major Spanish-language newspaper accused administration officials of lying to the people.
scene at cartago
Ken Beedle/A.M. Costa Rica
Torch reaches its destination at the Ruinas de Cartago and a large caldera is ignited.

He also arrived home to find that the free trade treaty with the United States has been frozen by a Sala IV constitutional court decision. Administration officials will seek yet another extension from the United States and the other Latin nations involved, but an extension is not assured.

Arias will speak again today at 10 a.m. in Parque Nacional in San José at another ceremony marking the 187th anniversary of freedom from Spanish rule.

Ilgsen Steller Rugama discusses the celebration with her charges: Gebin, 12, Gilberto, 7,
Adonay, 4, Abigail, 7, Juan Carlos, 7 and Starlyn, 5, all from San Pedro

kids enjoy party
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray

It was a special day for kids who do not go out much
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is not often that the children from the institute are able to go out, said caregivers.

That's why the independence day event at Centro Nacional de la Cultura was so special, they said Sunday.

“The kids go to school and come back to the center, then go to school and come back, they hardly ever get to leave,” said Ilgsen Steller Rugama, who works for the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

Ms. Steller said she takes care of 10 children, ages 3 to 15, at Albergue Roosevelt in San Pedro. She works 11 days straight, 24 hours a day, and then has three days off, she said. The children she cares for call her Tía or “Aunt” just as all the boys and girls in the institutional homes around the country call their caregivers, she said. Three of her “nephews” sat in front of her dressed in patriotic colors while another sat by her side talking to her with excitement.

The children are in the care center for a variety of reasons including being neglected by parents.
The event at the cultural center near Parque España Sunday hosted music and fun events for the kids from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Children from institutional homes all over the provinces of San José and Cartago attended the event, said Leda Azofeifa Chavarría, an attendant at a home in Barrio Vargas Araya de Montes de Oca.

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the nation's child welfare agency, also invited boys and girls whose mothers are in the Buen Pastor prison to attend the independence day celebration, said Ms. Azofeifa. About a dozen showed up at 11 a.m. to watch the music and storytelling show, she said pointing across the aisle.

This will be the big event Sunday for the five children Ms. Azofeifa watches. The patriotic gatherings in the evening are too far away from the children's home and it would be difficult if one child wanted to leave or had a problem. “They can be hard to control,” she said. But the little group will go to one of the parades today in the morning, she said.  

Ms. Azofeifa who has worked with the national children's institute for more than three years said the job brings all sorts of emotions from sadness to happiness and hope.

Escazú Christian Fellowship

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 183

Both sides of Bolivian dispute agree to resume negotiations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The government of Bolivia has resumed talks with opposition leaders after a deep political crisis triggered violent unrest which resulted in a declaration of martial law.

Government officials said Sunday at least 28 people were killed in last week's fighting between government and opposition supporters.

Interior Minister Alfredo Rada announced the near doubling of the death toll after more bodies were found following Thursday's clash in the northern province of Pando.

South American leaders are to gather later Monday in Chile at an emergency summit to try to find a resolution to the situation.

The crisis began when supporters of right-wing opposition governors fired shots at pro-government peasant farmers.  The clash happened during a protest over proposed constitutional reforms by Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Morales has accused Pando's governor, Leopoldo Fernández, of ordering a massacre.  Fernández denies having anything to do with the violence.

The violence prompted Morales to declare martial law in Pando and send troops to take control of the airport in the provincial capital, Cobija.

Morales last week ordered U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg to leave the country, accusing the diplomat of instigating protests. In La Paz Sunday, Goldberg told
 reporters the accusation is false and unjustified.

The United States told Venezuela over the weekend that its ambassador to Washington will be expelled in the latest chapter of a growing diplomatic dispute. The U.S. also slapped sanctions on Venezuelan officials for allegedly supplying arms and helping drug traffickers.

The U.S. State Department announced the expulsion of the Venezuelan ambassador one day after ordering Bolivia's ambassador to leave the country.

Thursday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the U.S. ambassador in Caracas to leave, a move he said was designed to show solidarity with Bolivia.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the decisions by the two Latin American governments regrettable. "This reflects the weakness and desperation of these leaders as they face internal challenges and an inability to communicate effectively internationally in order to build international support. The charges leveled against our fine ambassadors by the leaders of Bolivia and Venezuela are false, and the leaders of those countries know it," he said.

The latest diplomatic dispute came on the same day the U.S. accused two senior Venezuelan government officials and a former official of aiding Colombian rebels.

The Treasury Department accused the officials of supplying weapons and protecting drug shipments for members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. The U.S. froze assets of the three and prohibited Americans from conducting business transactions involving those assets.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 183

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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.


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.


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.


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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Pope Benedict praises
prayer in Lourdes visit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tens of thousands of pilgrims turned out at the shrine of Lourdes for Pope Benedict's Mass to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a peasant girl's visions of the Virgin Mary. The Pope spoke to them of the message of Lourdes and told them praying is not a waste of time.

Pilgrims came to Lourdes from different countries to be present for the pope's Mass at the shrine where Saint Bernadette had her visions 150 years ago. She was only 14 years old and she had 18 visions of the Virgin Mary.

Addressing the faithful in his homily, Benedict reminded them of the message that stemmed from those apparitions.

Bernadette is the eldest daughter of a very poor family, the pope said, with neither knowledge nor power, and in poor health. Mary chose her to transmit her message of conversion, prayer and penance.

Millions visit the shrine every year hoping in a miracle cure. The Catholic Church has recognized dozens of miraculous healings of sick pilgrims who visited Lourdes.

The primary purpose of the shrine at Lourdes, the pope said, is to be a place of encounter with God in prayer and a place of service, notably through the welcome given to the sick, the poor and all who suffer.

In his homily Benedict also told the faithful gathered that praying is not a waste of time, rather it is indispensable. He said: "To allow oneself to become absorbed by activity runs the risk of depriving prayer of its specifically Christian character and its true efficacy."

He urged young people not to be afraid to answer to God's calling to become priests or nuns.

YouTube acts to eliminate
hate speech, terror aids

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The popular video-sharing website YouTube has introduced new regulations aimed at purging the site of terror-related materials.

The rules forbid so-called "hate speech" (speech which attacks or demeans a particular nationality, race, or ethnic group) and gratuitous violence.  They also bar instructional videos on subjects like bomb-making and sniper attacks.

It was not immediately clear how YouTube would enforce its new rules.  Friday, videos on bomb-making were still readily available on the site.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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