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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, Sept. 18, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 185       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Beach concessions to face enforcement
Environment ministry about to show its muscles

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The environmental ministry is about to specify where construction can go within the borders of beach concessions.

Even though an individual or a firm may already have an approved concession, the ministry is ready to rule out construction in forest land, land with steep slopes and wetlands.

And the ministry may initiate destruction of structures that already have been built on land that is now being declared off limits. In some concession areas 60 to 70 percent of the land is being safeguarded by the environmental ministry.

What is involved is a reevaluation of the rules that govern the maritime zone, the 200 meters above mean high tide. Anything built illegally — from small structures to hotels — can be in the way of the law.

Legal battles can postpone the inevitable but not delay fate forever. The Mar y Sombra restaurant bit the dust in August after a lengthy, futile legal battle due to its location in the maritime zone, although that was a municipal case.

The first maps are out and it appears the ministry already knows what the decision will be in a case that is sitting on a magistrate’s desk at the Sala IV constitutional court awaiting signatures.

The case, number 04-005607-0007CO, is the famous action that stopped concession granting in the maritime zone in 2004 because of outcries against Executive Decree 31750-MINAE-TUR.

The decree would have allowed the construction of buildings up to 14 meters high and permitted the logging of forest areas to make way for “ecotourism” projects.

The decree would have legalized the range of impacts that tourism projects would have had on forests: allowing the cutting of trees up to 15 percent of the concession area in primary forests, and 25 percent in secondary forests.

The amazing part of all this is many tourism developments are already built in restricted areas of the maritime zone with permissions given to them from local municipalities and approvals from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. But they lack approval from the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, which until now has not taken an active role.

In some cases where building took place in restricted areas of forest zones, the approvals directly conflict with the forestry law and are illegal.  A case in fact, is Proyecto Playa Dulce Vida where the company cut down the forest to build its development.   The freezing of the permissions arrived too late to stop the destruction. 

Proyecto Playa Dulce Vida on the central Pacific coast is just one example of the many areas restructured by developers before the environmental ministry could get its act together to stop them.

Quite by accident, the executive decree spotlighted the already existing activities, and, by doing so, triggered anger at the ministry which lead to the constitutional case.

The hoopla is not about the forest. It is about power.

The environmental ministry felt trumped by the executive decree.  The decree usurped Forest Law 7575 where the environmental ministry is the only institution in the country to determine what is forest and what is not, ministry workers decided. 

Law 7575 permits zero development in restricted forest areas.   The criteria determining these zones include tree density and size along with the slope of the land.

The labor union syndicate of the ministry filed the constitution case with the Sala IV.  They were protecting their jobs and recognized the warning signs that the ministry was about to lose power. The syndicate surely will win the case, and the executive decree will be voided, thus reinstating the ministry’s power as king over these lands.

Environmental ministry workers must know this because they are out in force inventorying the entire country’s maritime zone to determine what are concessionable areas within these restricted territories.  In a concession, a private company leases public land for private use including ventures for profit. Many major hotels and other developments are constructed on concession land.

When the smoke clears and the power struggle is over with executive decree of 2004 rescinded, what is going to happen to developers who built in restricted areas of the maritime zone?

Recent events reflect that the country will stop at nothing to protect the maritime zone because the area is part of the public trust and the legislature, courts, and ministries must defend it at all costs for the people of Costa Rica.

Structures existing for years are falling to the wrecking balls of today. A victory for the ministry in the Sala IV case is sure to trigger other, similar demolitions.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at crlaw@licgarro.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.  Copyright 2004-2006, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 185

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Our readers' opinions

He applaudes those Ticas
with bare belly buttons

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Part of Jo Stuart’s Sept. 15 column attempted to give notoriety, if not justifiable credence, to her friend Dos’ curiosity about hair length and styles of fashion currently adopted by “all” Costa Rican females. Dos’ implied curiosity revealed her hidden agenda of envy cloaked in implied criticism.
Ms. Stuart then tried to self-righteously morally judge and classify this currently adopted popular fashion style of Costa Rica women as their being dressed in the style of prostitutes. Prostitutes, whom, she implied, were not “respectable ladies.”  She then went on to sympathize with and bemoan the plight of a prostitute’s male customers who “are befuddled as to whom they should or can approach.”
“Now isn’t that special?” as Church Lady, a one time Saturday Night Live regular, would say.
I personally admire and applaud these Costa Rican women’s celebration of their genetic, not synthetic, physical beauty; built in, not added on as it were. Their evident genuinely appropriate pride and self confidence that they so stunningly demonstrate by dressing in their currently adopted styles of fashion is as much a part of Costa Rica’s charm and beauty as the splendor and physical wonderment of it’s forests primeval and verdant jungles.
My ongoing active appreciation of these natural wonders has been aided and abetted by my application of my museum philosophy: “Look, but don’t touch, and don’t even think about bringing it home.”

That’s probably one of the main reasons why I’m still hale and harty after my over 10-year residence here in Central America. It’s also more than likely one of the precipitating factors for the absolutely delightful continuation of my existent eight-year-plus marriage to one of the most lovely of Costa Rica’s daughters
Allen McDonald
Tejano Tico
Defense contractor happy
we reported on deployment 

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thanks so much for publishing the article about the U. S. aid to the alcohol poisoning victims in Nicaragua.  I am a defense contractor at the base in Honduras from which the medical team departed.

On many deployments, contractors accompany military personnel.  As it happens, I did not deploy, but was able to explain to my Nicaraguan in-laws who are visiting me here in Honduras, that the base where I work sent a team to help in Leon.  They were impressed and thankful.

I was proud to be a part, however small, of such an effort.  We seem to hear so much negative press about defense contractors like Dyncorp and Blackwater, and about America’s “army of mercenaries,” that we overlook the good that U. S. defense contractors are doing right here in Central America.
J. B. Call
Soto Cano Air Base
Palmerola, Honduras

Support urged for effort
to restrict weaponry

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Expats might like to know about a Costa Rican peace effort that will need their help.

In October, the U.N. will be again voting on a treaty to control trade in conventional weapons. The resolution has been sponsored by Costa Rica, Canada and other peace-minded nations.

Uncontrolled availability of guns, landmines, etc. kills more than 1,000 innocent men, women and children a day, and causes and perpetuates war, poverty, and general human misery around the world. As before, expected opposition to the treaty will be led by the U.S., in an alliance with Russia, China and Iran and some other unsavory countries.

The treaty would be based on a simple principle: no weapons if there is a clear risk that they will be used to abuse human rights or fuel conflict. This requirement would not in anyway constitute a theat to U.S. security. On the contrary it would increase security everywhere.

American expats could support Costa Rica in this worthy effort by asking their elected U.S. government representatives to support the U.N. initative on arms trade in October.

R. Martin

Honest reporting asked
of property transactions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As a business owner in the states, and an investor and business owner in Costa Rica, I am sending this open letter outlining how I think the Costa Rica government should raise money for the roads, bridges, health care, security and education costs that need funding so desperately vs. the various ideas I hear floating around in Costa Rican news.

As the old time bank robber Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that is where the money is, the government should turn its focus to sales of Costa Rican real estate for the same reason.

If the government were to require all lawyers, real estate agents/firms, closing agents and title companies to be licensed, and to then have them state at the closing/transfer of all real estate that the closing price listed on the closing statement was correct and that they understand that they will lose their license and ability to work in Costa Rica if they do not tell the truth, the governments revenues will increase many times overnight.

Additionally, they could also retain at the closing a percentage of the gross selling price (or profits if the seller can verify his purchase price) of each sale (maybe 5 or 10 percent) until the entity selling the property files a personal or corporate tax return on their profits from the sale.  Most sellers today are probably making over 300 percent on their original investment so they can afford to pay the 5 – 10 percent on their profits that the government so desperately needs.

I would encourage the Costa Rican government to keep the tax rates low (5 – 10 percent) to encourage as much business as possible.

I know many people are opposed to all taxes, but Costa Rica needs and business people understand that by investing in roads, bridges, security, health care & education, everyone in Costa Rica will benefit in the long term.

Jonathan Burt
Naples, Florida
Professional Directory
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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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 185

'From little acorns' is the sense of this Costa Rican saying
De chiquitos van pa’ grande
“The little darlings do grow up.” This dicho usually refers to children and the kinds of adults they’re likely to mature into.
It is a curious thing that some parents apparently believe the assertion of any kind of authority over their offspring is tantamount to child abuse. They seem to eternally equate the word “discipline” with brutality.
When I was a young man, one of my nephews loved to come to our house to visit. The principal problem with this child was that he had an annoying penchant for doing exactly what he was told not to do. His doting mother categorically rejected as abject cruelty any attempt to control her darling brat.
I might say, for example, “Luis, do not throw my shoe out of the window.” He would look first at me and then, with a gleeful grin, at his fawning mother before proceeding to hurl one of my Top-Siders over the sill.
I’d stare exasperatedly as his mother, waiting for her to take some disciplinary action. But usually she would just say something like, “Oh! Luis, you rascal you!” And, with a benign maternal smile, pat the impish demon on his wicked little pate.
Once when baby Luis and his mama came to visit, I was in my room reading a book I’d just borrowed from the public library. I left the volume open on my desk while I went to the kitchen for a snack. During my absence, despite being warned repeatedly not to, the little savage sneaked into my room and amused himself by merrily ripping page after page from my library book!
Of course I was furious when I returned to find the book in shreds. This was the proverbial last straw! I screamed for the miniature miscreant, but he had already scurried off as fast as his dwarfish legs would carry him in search of the protection of his mother.
When I caught up to Luis, I grabbed him by the arm and said, “Come with me. We're going to have a little talk, just the two of us, man to man.”
“What are you doing?! What are you doing?!” cried his distraught mother.
“I’m about to administer a bit of discipline, my dear,” I replied, “since you don¹t seem to know the meaning of the word. Now, he’s destroyed a library book, which you are going to have to pay for.”
“I can’t afford to be paying for any library books,” she hysterically objected.
“Well, you might have thought of that before you allowed the little beast to roam about off his tether,” I countered. The notion that her child’s actions might somehow be her responsibility was a concept totally foreign to her.
I hauled Luis, literally kicking and screaming, into my

way we say it

By Daniel Soto


room, shut the door and confronted him with the mutilated book.  He offered me a tearful apology. But I explained that though his verbal contrition was appreciated, it would take more than that to make amends for destroying property that did not belong to him. He had three choices; no television for a week, to sit in a corner for a half hour every day for a month, or three spanks on his bare butt. His choice was the second of these, which, in a matter of days, he came to loath, though he thought it the least painful when he chose it.
With the exception of this episode, Luis grew up almost totally without parental discipline. As a result, though he is quite intelligent, he has emotional problems and has suffered numerous obstacles in adjusting to life as an adult. He has difficulty taking responsibility for his actions and has a tendency to blame his frequent mistakes on other people. It is indeed sad to see him thus languishing, but at least half the blame rests with his indulgent upbringing.
My grandfather used to tell the story of an old campesino many years ago, who liked to keep chickens and pigs but always let them run loose around his farm. Unfortunately, his property was adjacent to the railroad and his animals were frequently run over by passing trains. This infuriated the venerable Don, but still he refused to pen up his livestock.
One Christmas this old granjero went to visit his grandson in San José. While in the capital he was taken to the Universal Bookstore where an elaborate model railroad was on holiday display.
The old gent watched with great interest as the charming little locomotives went busily round and round pulling miniature freight and passenger cars behind them. When suddenly he seized a large dictionary from off one of the shelves and began attacking the toy trains, derailing them and smashing them to bits.
“¡Abuelo! ¡Abuelo!” cried the nieto, grabbing his grandfather’s arm and wresting the book away from him. “What on earth is the matter?!”
“¡Ay! Mi nieto, mi nieto, lo siento,” gasped the old devil, regaining his composure. “Pero, mire. Por supuesto. Es porque de chiquitos van pa’ grande,” he said, with a perspicacious shrug.

Costa Rica has the luxury of decent water from the tap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is a first-world country when drinking and agricultural water is studied.

Most of Latin America is fraught with danger for those who would unthinkingly brush teeth or accept a soft drink over ice.

Yet the growing population here may change that situation.

The issue is newsworthy today because the United States is facing an epidemic of E. coli bacteria believed linked to packaged spinach, produced in California. More than 100 persons have been sickened, and two deaths have been linked to the outbreak.

Even though some packages carried the label "Dole," all the spinach involved is reported to have come from California. Costa Rica exports tons of vegetables to the United States, and there have been few recent problems. U.S. consumers purchase over 2 million bags of Dole salad every day, the company said.

E. coli comes from only one source: sewage, either human or animal. And such an infection can be fatal for toddlers or the aged or infirm.

Dole Food Co., Inc., has announced that it supports the voluntary recall issued by Natural Selection Foods of packaged fresh spinach that Natural Selection produced and packaged. Some of it was under the Dole brand. The suspect spinach carries the  best-if-used-by date of Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, 2006, said Dole.

One argument that has been advanced in favor of rebuilding the Central Valley sewer lines is to take sewage out of the surface water. The current system dumps untreated sewage into tributaries that eventually flow into the Río Tárcoles and then the Gulf of Nicoya. Agricultural irrigation that uses water from the Tárcoles might contain  E. coli or worse.

Those who have traveled elsewhere in Latin America or in Eastern Europe or Asia know that living in Costa Rica is a luxury. At least within the Central Valley the water that comes from the tap is drinkable. Scotch can be drunk on the rocks. And teeth can be brushed and mouths rinsed with tap water.
Some prefer bottled water that comes from springs. And that is available both as home-delivery and as individual bottles in restaurants and stores. But  bottled water is not madatory as it is elsewhere.

In some Latin countries lettuce is a luxury. That leafy vegetable is hard to clean, and parboiling to remove E. coli or amoebas destroys the taste.

Caracas, Venezuela, used to have two restaurants run by North Americans who advertised that their lettuce was irrigated from deep wells. North Americans used to flock there to eat whole heads of crispy lettuce. It was a treat in a land where most of the fresh food is contaminated. The dense population of the Caracas area polluted most of the streams that farmers later used for irrigation.

Most home gardeners know that using fresh manure for vegetable fertilizer is a bad practice. The bacteria stays alive and reproduces. A child's death in Maine was traced to E. coli from calf manure that his mother added to the family garden, according to Colorado State University. Bacteria will even survive a freezing winter, and composting plus four to six months of curing is recommended, the university said.

There is some scientific evidence that E. coli can enter plants via the root system.

E. coli also is found in milk, undercooked hamburger, other fresh vegetables and unpasteurized fruit juices. Cheese and ice cream also can be vectors of the bacteria.

A description of other parasites that might invade the body through drinking water or food would fill a large textbook. Fortunately many are rare in Costa Rica.

The Central Valley sewer project appears to be hung up in the Asamblea Legislativa where lawmakers have to decide if they will accept a $130 million loan from the government of Japan. Health officials and water company executives are pushing for the measure, but the $130 million is only about a third of the cost. So lawmakers have to decide if they will come up with the rest of the money.

The project would include building a major sewage treatment plant and installing new lines throughout the central valley, including in areas where such lines do not now exist.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 18, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 185

Photos courtesty of Ocotal Beach Resort
Playas del Coco residents show off some of the trash gleaned from the beach during a community cleanup
day Saturday. More than 300 persons participated and

accumulated the trash pictured at right, said a spokesperson for the sponsors, Ocotal Beach Resort. Once a fishing village, Coco now is a major expat town.

Arias jokes that Costa Rica now is an Apple republic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Costa Rica is not a banana republic. It is an Apple republic, according to President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who spoke Sunday in Denver at a gathering of some 3,000 youngsters.

Arias said that pineapple is the third biggest export of Costa Rica. Bananas are second. But in first place, he said, are computer chips made here by Intel which find their way into Macintosh products, whose logo is the apple.

Arias used the apple metaphor to show that Costa Rica has made an investment in education and the modernization of its production. And, said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, this has been possible because in 1948 Costa Rica eliminated the military.

Arias told the youngsters, who came from many countries for the event called Peace Jam, that the United States spends at least $1 trillion a year on military and that just a fraction of that would be enough to provide clean drinking water to the 1.6 million around the world who do not have it.

Other Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama were at the Denver, Colorado, event.

The word security has been kidnapped by a perception that arms guarantee the welfare of people, said Arias. "The biggest killer of human beings is not Saddam Hussein, the ex-dictator of Iraq, but heart attacks. Malaria and AIDS together kill more people than al Qaeda," said Arias.

The president is off to New York today for the General Assembly of the United Nations where he will urge adoption of his proposal to approve a treaty that would keep track of the international sale of weapons.

Casa Presidencial said that Arias obtained support from various Nobel laureates to back his resolution.

President George Bush also is on the list of world leaders and government ministers gathering in New York this week for the annual U.N. General Assembly debate.  This year's event takes on added significance, with negotiations

Casa Presidencial photo
President Óscar Arias greets a father and daughter at independence day celebrations Friday where he said the mission of everyone was to improve the country.
on the sidelines to determine who will be the world body's next secretary-general.

For Latin American countries, there is the added question of what country will occupy one of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council. The U.S. backs Guatemala, but Venezuela also wants the seat.

The debate begins Tuesday, and over seven days, more than 80 heads of state and government will address the assembly. Bush will speak at the opening session, along with the leaders of France, Finland, Poland, South Africa, Pakistan and Brazil.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, is slated to speak late in the day, but he will not cross paths with Bush.

The Assembly debate has become an occasion for bilateral and group meetings among world leaders, as well as for forums and conferences. Bush's schedule includes a one-on-one chat with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and private meetings with several of his fellow heads of state.

Yet another protest planned by drivers who want to maintain status quo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The porteadores or contract drivers plan another demonstration for Tuesday, and transport officials are ready to crack down by ticketing and towing the vehicles.

The porteadores are the drivers who rely on a clause in the commercial code to keep their work legal.

Unlike licensed taxi drivers, the porteadores are supposed to take people from door to door and not find customers on the street.

A measure in the Asamblea Legislativa would eliminate the commercial code clause and make the work of the porteador
illegal. Taxi drivers like this idea and have staged road blockages in support of the measure.

Porteadores say 7,000 families all over the country depend on their income.

With higher gasoline prices and higher tax fares, customers are fewer, and taxi drivers are feeling a pinch. They blame the porteadores and call them nothing more than piratas.

Porteadores staged a protest Sept. 5 where they shut down or constricted major traffic routes. A similar effort is expected for Tuesday, and officials from the Policía de Tránsito and the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transporte say they will respond with vigor.

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