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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 191       E-mail us
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All sectors depend on U.S.
Tico economy is on hold as players wait and see

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fears over the economic problems in the United States are being fanned here by the traditional slow period in September.

Still, the concern in tourism, real estate, banking and the rest of the business community is of a degree that has not been seen since the airplanes stopped flying Sept. 11, 2001.

Reports from investors, board rooms and developers speak of a freeze. Those who rent apartments for a living complain that the telephone has stopped ringing.

There is no doubt that the business community is taking a deep breath to see how problems in the north play out.

Meanwhile, there are reports of a few well-heeled investors seeking out undeveloped property as a place to put accumulated cash for fear of double-digit inflation in the U.S. dollar.

The confusion in multiple markets brings up that purported Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Some developers have figured out a way to capitalize on investor uncertainty. One is Michael Cobb, chairman and CEO of Gran Pacific on the Nicaraguan coast. The country has been a hard sell lately, thanks to President Daniel Ortega and his left-leaning policies and friends. But Cobb has launched a public relations counterattack:

"Many of the 77 million baby boomers retiring over the next few years will face unprecedented challenges in maintaining their standard of living in retirement," he says in a current Internet promotion.

His solution, of course, is for baby boomers to purchase an affordable oceanfront condo at Gran Pacifica.

Cobb seems to subscribe to the theory that advertising is even more vital in harder times.

The optimistic leaders in the tourism industry, the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, is quick to point out that Costa Rica is maintaining its status as a preferred tourism location despite the international financial squeeze. But that was last week.

And the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo plans an unprecedented $14 million advertising campaign in the United States, although the government agency has been less then successful in previous campaigns.

In the short term, various tourism venues are offering seasonal deals. For example, Flamingo Beach Resort has a 50 percent-off promo where the third and fourth person in a room do not pay.

And Visa and Banco de Costa Rica have a promotion in which a customer can win a Toyota Prius 2009 hybrid through Oct. 31.

Tourism has been beaten up this year. An increase in crime and bad news about ocean water quality have affected all but the most isolated spots. Downtown San José is suffering from the competition from Daniel Oduber airport in
retirees


Liberia. Many Pacific beachgoers no longer pass through the capital, thanks to the growing air traffic in Guanacaste.

Capital restaurants and nightspots are suffering if they depend on tourists.

In the real estate industry, the major fears are about financing. Local banks also are adopting conservative policies and international lenders are caught up in the Stateside crisis.

But then there is the concept of land banking, that is putting money today in real estate in anticipation of higher inflation. Drug dealers have done this for years to legitimize ill-gotten funds. But there is no crime in putting vulnerable currency into hard assets if inflation looms. The problem is that such approaches to be viable must be all-cash deals.

Many fear inflation as the U.S. Treasury Department cranks up the printing presses to bail out the failed financial firms.

For the retired expat in Costa Rica inflation is the great fear. As Gran Pacifica's Cobb noted, citing a recent study: "Many Americans will have to reduce their standard of living significantly due to fluctuating investment returns and the probability of spending more years in retirement."

Some expats already have taken a beating as their stock market holdings and even tax free retirement accounts have taken a hit.  And would-be expats also face real estate and investment erosion.

In fact one e-mail promotion urges U.S. residents to roll over their 401(k) investments into Costa Rican real estate as a safeguard. A reader characterized this as very risky.

So far none of the Costa Rican business sectors are in the tank with Bear Stearns. And tourism, real estate and other key sectors still have positive fundamentals.

Nevertheless, few expect any dramatic change until after the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential elections.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 191

Costa Rica Expertise
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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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Economics ministry clamps
controls on sales of rice


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economics ministry is stepping in to reduce the price of rice, and officials say the regulation of the market is just the beginning.

Wednesday Marco Vargas Díaz, the economics minister, established a lower price for high-quality rice. This is rice with from 9 to 7 percent broken grains.

The price, which will be established formally in a decree when published will be 1,395 colons ($2.54) for a two-kilo sack of 91 percent whole grain rice. That is a reduction of about 12 percent from the current market price.

Higher quality rice with 93 percent unbroken grains will see a 519 colon (95 cent) reduction per each two-kilo sack to 1,914 colons ($3.49). This is about a 37 percent reduction in the market price.

A study by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio showed that producers were not marketing enough of the lower-quality 80 percent whole grain rice, said Vargas. Until Wednesday that was the only quality of rice that was subject to price control.

Under the law the ministry has the authority to adjust all prices that are in the basic food basket of the average household. In the last year, the ministry calculated that about 40 percent of the rice consumed in the country was purchased at free-market prices, the ministry said.

Rice, of course, is the staple of Latin American cooking, and also is the main ingredient in the gallo pinto national breakfast dish.

Lottery winner wins one

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court played Santa Wednesday to an elderly lottery player. The man Rodrigo Zavaleta Umaña, 85, had five pieces of the valuable Christmas lottery known as the Gordo. But he did not know it.

He failed to present the pieces to the lottery operator, the Junta de Protección Social, until the 60 days to do so expired. The Junta denied the claim.

But the court for very technical and obscure reasons told the junta to give the man his 68 million colons, about $124,000.

Our reader's opinion
Panamá has changed
and more is coming


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Much has been written lately on the Panamá vs. Costa Rica question. Prices are cheaper in Panamá. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out. Many retirees' budgets are going to be squeezed to the limit due to current economic dynamics. Since the Panamanian Baloba = the U.S. Dollar, prices in Panamá will rise commensurately with the continued dollar dive. If you doubt me, watch the Congress bow to yet another print-fest on this massive bailout bill. Currency devaluation equals inflation and inflation kills buying power. No mystery here.
 
On to business then. Panama recently changed ALL of its immigration criteria approximately a month ago. Call any law office or residency outfit that you wish. The average increase in financial requirements is about 40 percent! If you were thinking of obtaining a reforestation visa, forget about it. You'll have to buy 10-20 hectares of reforestation project land in order to qualify now. Last I checked this type of project land was running $20K U. S. dollars per hectare.
 
Similar increases are seen with self solvency visas, pensionado visas, etc., etc. We are talking serious money here, and I was frankly shocked to see the aggressive nature of these moves with Panama Migración. So those who are seeking to lay down some roots in Panamá better get their facts straight unless planning on utilizing the border hopping tourist visa and running back and forth every 90 days.
 
We love to talk politics too! Well, as I understand it, Panamá Presidential elections are to take place in May 2009. One of the candidates is a former Noriega accomplice, and she is rumored to have a real problem with expatriates snapping up precious land resources there and may take matters into her own hands (if elected) to help put matters straight. What this means is the appeal of Panamá for expats has had the lustre buffed right off of it.
 
So, what we have here is a tightening of Panama Immigration law, a squeeze on expat budgets and the potential for a regime hostile to expats to take the seat of power in Panama.

To many readers who may live in Panama or are considering the same this may sound like a far-fetched post, but I would suggest you do your own research before jumping in. The expat environment in Panama HAS changed drastically with these new qualification/income/asset rules. Things could get even dicier after the next election. Keep in mind that although Costa Rica may have its problems, it has a solid track record of a peaceable government. Expats will now find that the price of admission into Costa Rica is more palatable than Panamá.
 
Finally, consider that the economy in Costa Rica is heavily dependent on U.S. tourist dollars. The U.S. consumer/traveler is reportedly nearly tapped out. Will the Costa Rican government suddenly have no money available for public services ie: police? healthcare? People are under pressure everywhere. There is no perfect place.

Also, remember that in the event that the U.S. dollar crashes as the printing presses up north run at warp speed, the Panamá "advantage" will be Costa Rica!
Dennie Sartuga
Limón

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 191


Wheelchair-confined protesters ask via a sign if they are second-class citizens.
protesters in wheelchairs
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Disabled workers express their displeasure at payments
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national insurance monopoly was the scene of a protest Wednesday by a group who receives disability payments. Many of the protesters were in wheelchairs.
The protesters are from the Grupo Taller de Lesionados Medulares, those with spinal injuries. Their complaint was that their disability payments are not keeping up with inflation.

Giovanni Ramírez Rojas, the group spokesman, said that the response of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros was nothing but discouraging. The insurance monopoly known as INS writes workman's compensation policies, and those protesting had been injured on the jobs.

"You want to turn us into beggars," said one of the signs carried by the protesters.

Guillermo Constenla, executive president of the institute, met with the protesters in the street in front of the towering insurance building in north San José.

In a letter, Ramírez said that although the disabled workers had received a 6 percent increase in payments in January inflation will likely be about 15 percent this year. He said that Constenla reported in August that the insurance monopoly had about a half million dollars in reserves. Ramírez also said that the institute had not paid its assessment to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social on behalf of the disabled workers. The Caja provides normal medical care while the institute is responsible for work-related treatments.  The group invited insurance executives to a meeting Oct. 8 to continue the discussion.
protesters
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Roberto Umaña Corrales in wheelchair and José Luis Peña Bonilla were among the protesters.


Arias promotes his proposals before U.N. General Assembly
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Universal literacy, the eradication of many preventable diseases and safe drinking water for everyone could all be achieved if the world spent as much on those causes as it already does on military forces, Costa Rica’s president told the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday night in a call for a radical rethinking of global spending.

The president, Óscar Arias Sánchez told the assembly in New York that many governments were hurting their citizens by indulging in excessive military spending.

“On a planet where one-sixth of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, spending $1.2 trillion on arms and soldiers is an offense and a symbol of irrationality,” Arias said.

He voiced particular concern about his own region, Latin America, where military spending last year topped $39 billion, even though the region “has never been more peaceful or more democratic.”

Arias said that even tiny percentage reductions in military spending by countries could make a major difference to important causes and at the same time not jeopardize those nations’ defense.

“I know no greater perversion of values, and no greater misplacement of priorities,” he said of the current spending arrangements. “With a small percentage of world military spending, we could give potable water to all of humanity, equip all homes with electricity, achieve universal literacy, and eradicate all preventable diseases.”

Arias called for international support for the Costa Rica Consensus, an initiative that would allow the debts of poor countries to be forgiven and increase spending on the environment, education, health care and housing in those states at the expense of funding arms and soldiers.

“I also ask for your support for the arms trade treaty that Costa Rica is pushing forward in the heart of this organization, to prohibit the transfer of arms to states, groups or individuals if sufficient reason exists to believe that those arms will be used to violate human rights or international law.

“The destructive power of the 640 million small arms and light weapons that exist in the world, most in the hands of civilians, deserves the same or even more attention than military spending.”

Earlier Arias and the president of the 10 other countries that have free trade treaties with the United States, either
Bush and presidents
White House photo by Eric Draper
Óscar Arias, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic listen to George Bush.

finalized or pending, met with President George Bush. Bush announced the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Initiative that will provide a forum where leaders can work to ensure that the benefits of trade are broadly shared. Bush added:

"It will deepen the connections among regional markets. It will expand our cooperation on development issues. This is a very promising initiative, and I expect positive results when our representatives meet on these issues later this year."

Casa Presidencial also announced that Arias received backing from the other nations involved in the free trade treaty with the United States for an extension. Arias reported he told the leaders of the other countries, including Bush, that the final implementing law for the treaty would be passed by the end of October.

The final piece of legislation ran into trouble in the Sala IV constitutional court.


Morales says privatization
caused financial crisis

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The current worldwide financial crisis has been caused largely by policies of privatization of basic public resources, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma has told the U.N. General Assembly. Speaking Wednesday night before world leaders at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Morales said the annual debate was taking place at a time of rebellion by peoples against the existing order.

“This is a rebellion against misery and poverty, against the effects of climate change, a rebellion against the privatization policies which is what has caused the financial crisis,” he said.

Morales, who became president of the Andean country in early 2006, said many social movements had emerged in Bolivia in recent years — involving indigenous peoples, farmers and other often marginalized groups — that questioned the economic models and systems that “simply privatized resources.”

Since he took office, the nationalization of the oil and gas industries had changed the Bolivian economy for the better, he said, ensuring drastically increased profits that could be spent on the people.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 191


Canadian documentary on breast cancer to air as a benefit
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

October is internationally known as Breast Cancer Month.   Canadian Director Gerry Rogers will be here to introduce "My Left Breast" to the people of Costa Rica at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano’s Eugene O’Neill Theater, Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. 

Also featured will be popular actress/director of Costa Rica’s Little Theatre Group fame Lisa deFuso, a recent breast cancer survivor, reading from the humorous journal she kept during treatment, subtly entitled “Lisa Beats the Crap Out of Breast Cancer.”  The evening will be opened by Canada’s ambassador to Costa Rica, Neil Reeder. 

Winner of two Gemini’s for best history/biography documentary and best direction in a documentary, Roger’s 57-minute film speaks strongly to a general audience as well as women living with breast cancer, for people living with cancer and their families and friends, for support groups, for health care providers and for teaching purposes.

In the film, incorporating a unique blend of wit, wisdom and resilience, Gerry Rogers bravely recounts her story of breast cancer survival to share with the world that life, indeed, can continue with full force and vigor.

Shortly after being diagnosed at age 42, Rogers began to document her ordeal on camera in an attempt to confront
 her own questions and fears about breast cancer. Rather than present a somber and morose meditation on this difficult experience, she decided to invoke humor to frankly reflect on the meaning of this disease on her life, as well as on the lives of her friends and family.

The result is a one-of-kind approach to positively coping with a potentially fatal disease. Rather than merely chronicling how one copes with an infirmity, "My Left Breast" serves as a model for overcoming every challenge and obstacle in life with clarity and honesty, according to reviewers.  This powerful film intimately embraces the emotional challenges of disease, demonstrates acceptance and, above all, affirms life, they said.

The Eugene O’Neill Theater is located in Barrio Dent, San Pedro, San Jose, 200 meters north of AutoMercado Los Yoses.  For parking, it is suggested using AutoMercado’s multi-level parking lot.  The event is in association with the Canadian Club

Tickets for the show are ¢5,000 and proceeds of the evening will benefit the Fundación Nacional Solidaridad del Cáncer de Mama program.   A wine and boca reception following the show is included. 

For reservations those who wish to attend can call the Centro Cultural at 2207-7555 or phone Noreen Liptak at 2232-5056 or e-mail her at noreenliptak1@yahoo.com.



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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

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Tuna boat captain, owner
given a $668,427 fine


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The operator and captain of a tuna boat caught fishing illegally near Isla del Coco have to pay $668,427 in fines for taking 14.5 tons of yellowfin tuna, said the Tribunal  Ambiental Administrativa.

The captain of the boat named Tiuna is Ariel  Bustamante and the owner is the Augusta Fishery Corp. Ltd., the tribunal said.

The tribunal also ordered payment of $46,098 for each ton of tuna and ordered that the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura cancel the license of the Panamanian-registered vessel. The crew of the vessel were caught in the act Jan. 29 in waters of the Parque Nacional Isla del Coco.

A percentage of the fines collected will go to the  Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas for exclusive use of patrolling the protected waters of the park, the tribunal said.

Armed band engages
police in a shootout


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four armed men, believed to be kidnappers, confronted Fuerza Pública officers and exchanged shots Wednesday in a field near Solania del Líbano, Tilarán. The gunmen, who were said to be armed with AK-47 rifles, fled and are the object of a search that involved up to 50 officers Wednesday.

The men fled to a wooded area, and a ground and air search is expected to resume today. The men were turned in by residents who saw them camped out in a field. They were believed to be waiting for their victim.

Searchers find child

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Searchers managed to find a 3-year-old who spent the night in a coffee plantation.

The search by the Cruz Roja began early Wednesday after the child was reported missing Tuesday in San Marcos de Tarrazú.

The child was last seen at midday Tuesday, and the Cruz Roja was contacted that afternoon but too late for a serious search.

The girl, identified as Luz María Ramírez Jiménez, is from Panamá, searchers said. She was reported to be in good health despite having spent the night outside.


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