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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 3, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 195
Jo Stuart
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Why so many expats get the short end here
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Why do so many who come to Costa Rica get hoodwinked, bamboozled, hornswoggled or just downright screwed.

It is because they come to buy a dream and do not think or do the proper homework before jumping into a project or investment.

Yes, there are many good deals in Costa Rica.  There are also many good real estate agents, attorneys, and advisers who can guide a newcomer in the right direction.  However, there are  bad ones.  Some people moving to Costa Rica to live do not even have legal residency, hang out a shingle, and start selling property and/or investment schemes.

There is no required real estate broker’s license necessary to sell property in Costa Rica.  A professional organization does exist and has worked hard trying to legitimatize an association, but to date it has not been successful in requiring brokers to have some type of a license. 

On the investment front, the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, the regulating agency overseeing financial transactions, is trying hard to curb investment scams.  However, they have many failures to their credit where people have lost entire fortunes due to the agency's failure to act in time.

Many people trust attorneys to assist them with their property transactions and some lawyers are impartial representatives who earn the fees paid to them.  Others are not.  They are just out to make a buck.

One particular practice many attorneys in Costa Rica do is illegal.  They prepare an escritura or property deed of sale with a low fictitious value and then charge a client full legal fees over the sale.  This act is prima facie evidence of fraud. The perjury is committed ostensible to save on taxes paid to register the deed.

The amount lost in transfer tax revenues is incalculable.  The Costa Rican legislature is crying for more taxes on everything, with an incredible new tax hike in discussion right now, but does nothing to close this tax-evading tactic. 

Sure, everyone likes to save money on taxes, but look at the downside for a newcomer regarding this practice.   This is a true case scenario.

A retired couple buys a beautiful piece of property on the beach for $250,000.  The attorney registered the sale for 100,000 colons for about $285 at the time.  The attorney is sloppy and does not register the property.  Some crooks come along and file false documents in court against the

original owner causing a legal foreclosure on the property.  The retired people are devastated and file a legal action against the lawyer at the local bar association seeking compensatory damages for the loss of the property, which today is worth $500,000.

The judge recently notified the retired couple he could not consider the price they really paid because the transfer deed was for 100,000 colons.  He further stated, in a scolding manner, they should not have taken the advice of the attorney to falsify the amount to save on taxes and that it was their responsibility to know the difference.

Most people coming to Costa Rica do not know the laws.  They rely on professionals for good advice.

In another case, a real estate agent recommends to a potential client to invest in his development.  He says not to worry, his attorney knows the ropes, and to transfer all his funds to a trust account where the real estate agent would have carte blanche access to the funds for the development.  No guarantees, no security, just promises are offered to the poor soul caught up in this pipe dream.

Too many give too much power to people they do not know.  They do this because they get absorbed in the romance the country offers swayed by the fancy footwork of others selling dreams. And some are motivated by simple greed.
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.  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 2005, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 3, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 195

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A.M. Costa Rica/Garland M. Baker
Water cascades off a farm field near Cartago Sunday as the Central Valley continues to be drenched.

Resettlement is the issue
for families flooded out

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A week after the national emergency commission put the entire Pacific slope on red alert, only the canton of Aguirre remains that way though hundreds remain in shelters and some must consider the possibility of moving from their homes permanently.

Friday, workers with the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias met with some of the 70 families from Portalón and explained to them the high risk they run by staying in their town.  Geologists with the commission conducted land and air surveys and concluded that the area runs a high risk of being washed away should the rains begin again in earnest.  They recommended that people there move in with friends or family elsewhere, or if necessary, stay in a temporary shelter.  But Bob Klenz, a property owner there, thinks they won't leave. 

Aguirre runs from Quepos almost to Dominical, but the most heavily affected area is between the two beach towns.

“For many of them, it's all they know,” he said.  Robbie Felix, a hotel owner in Quepos/Manuel Antonio agrees. 

“Portalón and the surrounding areas are high priced real estate. This is going to make it extremely difficult if not impossible to relocate these people anywhere near where they have lived all their lives,” she wrote.

The commission also recommended that many of the residents of San Cristóbal, Silencio/Sapera and Sábalo abandon their homes as well.  Although the commission has recommended that people leave, officials seem to understand that people are unlikely to follow the suggestions.  The commission will install 10 radios in key high-risk points around the town, it said.   

Ms. Felix also wrote that San Cristobal appears to have been wiped out.

“We picked up two men yesterday (Saturday) that had walked two days to get out of the worst affected area. They said there was nothing left in San Cristobal,” she wrote.

The emergency commission reported that Los Comités Locales de Emergencia are giving medical assistance and supplies to 809 persons that are still in 23 shelters around the country.  In Nosara, five families there are still living in the Disco Tropicana, said Bobbi Johnson, a resident in that town.  However, they have bathrooms and supplies as a result of the efforts by the Cruz Roja and private donations.  Bob Klenz, and Robbie Felix also agree that people have been coming through with donations. 

Ms. Felix wrote that she dropped off a truckload of supplies in Matapalo, Savegre and Portalón Saturday and was planning on returning with another one Sunday.  In addition, Jack's of Costa Rica, a snack food manufacturer here, and El Pozuelo, the cookie maker, also both made large donations, she said. 

“There are funds arriving here at the foundation from both the tourism operators in San José as well as from other businesses here and abroad,” she wrote.

They will be needed.  The emergency commission report from Sunday said that 403 houses are still damaged.  In addition, 97 damaged bridges and 219 damaged highways make it difficult to get supplies to the stricken areas. 

Though the rain has held off for the most part, Tropical Storm Stan is brewing south east of the Yucatan peninsula and could send some nasty weather towards the Pacifc coast.  The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the country is in for more rain.  As a result, the emergency commission is maintaining a “preventive vigilance,” throughout the Pacific coast.  

San José got about an inch and a half of rain Sunday afternoon and evening, and about two inches fell in Pavas, said the Instituto Meteorlógico Nacional. A reader said the rain was so hard in Ochomogo between San José and Cartago that a house was pushed off its foundations.

Blaze kills four persons
at Figueres family finca

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four persons died in an early morning blaze at the rural home of Mariano Figueres, son of José Figueres, three-time former president and winner of the 1948 revolution.

The dead are all members of the family of the wife of Mariano Figueres. Mariano Figueres also is the brother of José María Figueres Olsen, who, like his father, served as president.

The property, called La Lucha, is in Cristóbal de Desamparados, some 40 miles south of San José.
The property was off limits to reporters and press photographers, and investigators and firemen are declining to comment on the nature of the blaze or other circumstances.

Mariano Figueres is believed to have suffered burns and other injuries, as did his wife, Magaly Solano Solano. The woman's mother, Dora Solano Cerdas, and her brother,  Henry Solano Solano, died in the flames. Also dead is Sandra Castro Solano, the niece of Dora Solano, and her son, Gabriela Castro Solano, 5.
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This is a nation that really embraces Christmas early
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas — in Costa Rica, at least.

Oct. 1 was the unofficial start of Yuletide here, and the stores are filled with Christmas goodies.  And no one is complaining about the early arrival of holiday spirits.

Several department stores took out full-page advertisements in the Spanish-language dailies Saturday to announce they are ready for holiday customers. Universal, the big department store on the pedestrian boulevard downtown already has its show windows packed with presents, and much of the first floor is crowded with elaborate tree ornaments and even trees themselves.

The trend this year seems to be intricate tree ornaments the size of dinner plates. Santa Claus and the elves must be Chinese because nearly everything for Christmas seems to come from China.

Costa Ricans, of course, have a special interest in Christmas. In addition to the religious aspects, Dec. 25 signifies that the country is well into the dry season, called "summer" here, although some rain lingers for a week or more in the extreme southwest. It's time to shelve the umbrellas and plan for dry afternoons.

December also is the beginning of the high tourist 
season, helped by the local tradition of heading to the beaches for the holidays. Not to mention the tope horse parade, carnival in Zapote with mob bullfights and the carnival parade in the downtown.

There also is the aguinaldo or 13th month pay, which the government requires employers to provide their workers. It is a sure way to guarantee everyone has cash for presents and a jolly holiday. The law stipulated the money must be paid by the second week of December.

The night of Saturday, Dec. 11, is the gigantic parade, called the Festival de la Luz. And about the time government work slows. Public employees usually get two weeks off. Officials claim they save money by not having employees come in to work. But anyone who needs a government permit or other paperwork better get it done by Dec. 16. The week of Dec. 19 will be a short one filled with parties and celebrations.

Christmas this year is on a Sunday, as is New Year, so workers will be applying sick days and vacation days to get off at least by Wednesday, Dec. 21

Some private businesses will close for a long holiday, but for others, including those in the tourism industry, there's hard work ahead.

Theoretcally everyone should be back to work by Monday, Jan. 2. Then it is time to look forward to Semana Santa and Easter!

What early risers eat here is more tasty than worms
El que madruga come pechuga

“One who rises with the dawn gets to eat chicken breast.” I like this dicho very much, but one must understand an important aspect of it so you don’t go getting yourself into trouble so early in the day. Please note that I specified “chicken breast.” But the Spanish only refers to “breast,” pechuga. So I don’t think it would be a very good idea to go swinging down some San José street early one breezy morning repeating this dicho to every busty young señorita you meet. That might just earn you a sharp slap across the face! Not a very nice reward for getting up so early.

Now the real meaning of this dicho is very similar to the English expression, “The early bird catches the worm.” It essentially means that you can’t be napping all the time if you want to get ahead in life or that the one who is on the ball will be rewarded.

Personally, I like to get up early, especially in Costa Rica. I sometimes think that those who loll around in bed all morning are missing the best part of the day. It is so beautiful at the beach, for example, to wake up and watch the world come back to life with the sunrise, to smell the wonderful smells of the land and sea, and to listen to the birds making their varied and wonderful music.

I have a friend who owns a hotel at Manuel Antonio. The view from this hotel is absolutely spectacular. One can see the park, the crescent-shaped beach, and the wide expanse of the blue Pacific rolling out toward the horizon. It is a breathtaking vista to be sure.

I love to get up very early before anyone else is stirring and gaze at this view while sipping my coffee on the veranda. I sometimes take pictures of the titi monkeys swinging playfully from branch to branch, or the occasional three-toed sloth moving laboriously through the trees. All this is very exhilarating but also peaceful at the same time. It is at times like this that I feel most connected to nature. So, for me simply rising early is its own reward.

Some might consider this dicho to be a little out of date because it doesn’t take into consideration those many thousands among us these days who are vegetarians. Well, that’s easily remedied. We’ll simply change pechuga to mango so that our dicho
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

now says el que madruga come el mango maduro, or “one who rises with the dawn gets the ripe mango.”

This expression might also refer to getting started on the day’s occupation early during Costa Rica’s rainy season, because at that time of year it nearly always rains in the afternoon bringing most out-of-doors activities to a halt.

When I was a kid classes started at 7 a.m., which meant we had to be up by 5 in order to take showers, eat our breakfast, and walk the two long kilometers to arrive at the school on time. In those days the punishment for tardiness could be severe, especially at the Catholic school that I attended. So, the child who was a slug-a-bed in the morning would often either miss breakfast or be made to stay inside at recess time or both. In this way the meaning of el que madruga come pechuga was brought home to us quite early in life.

Sometimes I would meet up with friends on the way to school. It can be cold in the Central Valley in the early morning and our teeth would be chattering as we ran along playing games to keep warm on our long walk.

Sometimes memories of those days come back to me when I get up early here in Indiana and see the children trudging down our street through the snow drifts in the dim grey of a winter’s morning. We didn’t know what cold was back in my school days in San José. Watching those kids walking to school on a December morning always makes me grateful that I am able to return to Costa Rica for several months during our Hoosier winters. Snow is pretty and all, but it’s sort of a matter of “been there, done that,” if you know what I mean. 

Costa Rican products not among those from Dole under suspicion in U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dole Fresh Vegetables, of the Dole Food Company Inc., said Sunday that it was cooperating with health inspectors regarding an E. coli outbreak near Minneapolis and St Paul, Minn.      

The products in question are classic romaine, American blend and Greener Selection salads.  Eric Schwartz, the company's president, said that the suspected lot of all three products expired Sept. 23, and Sept. 22.  A consumer turned over a bag of one of
 the questionable salads to the Minnesota State Department of Health for testing, and results came back negative, Schwartz said.    

The products in question are grown in Salinas, Calif., and although Dole lettuce is grown here in Costa Rica, products grown here are distributed here, he said. 

So even if the E. coli outbreak is confirmed to have come from Dole's products grown in Salinas, it is impossible that a consumer in Costa Rica could contract that strain through products bought here. 


Navajo medicine man — 1904

Photos courtesy U.S. Library of Congress
Apache camp — 1906

Photo exhibit of U.S. Indians coming to Latin America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many of the most iconic 19th-century images of American Indian peoples are the work of renowned photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), whose extensive documentation of indigenous tribal life in the United States and Canada produced compelling pictures that continue to shape popular perceptions about the Western frontier.

Soon a broad selection of those images that have long captivated viewers from around the world will be on display in Latin America, thanks to a traveling photographic exhibit created expressly for the U.S. Department of State.  Designed to illustrate the extraordinary diversity of the North American Indian tribes, and to stimulate positive dialogue among diverse populations in Latin America, the exhibit aims to reach as wide an audience as possible, say curators.

To accomplish that goal, two identical exhibits of Curtis's photographs will travel throughout Latin America for one year, beginning in early October 2005.  Each exhibit will contain 60 museum-quality, fine-art photographic prints and a film by Anne Makepeace that examines Curtis's work and its relationship to contemporary Native Americans.

The Pacific Northwest

Curtis began his 30-year odyssey of studying and photographing Native Americans in the summer of 1900, but he first took photographs of Indians in the United States' Pacific Northwest region several years earlier.  The tribes of the Northwest Coast reportedly had the most elaborate and sophisticated material culture of any indigenous groups visited by Curtis.  As he soon discovered, the Northwestern tribes had developed spectacular ceremonial objects, such as complex masks and totem poles.

In his images of the Northwest's indigenous people, Curtis often featured scenic backdrops such as lakes and rivers (a favorite element of the photographer), along with mountain valleys surrounded by majestic forests.  His photographs of tribal life in the Plateau and Woodlands regions, which extend from the northern United States into Canada, are perhaps some of his most lyrical and serene.

Curtis's fieldwork for his epic, 20-volume portfolio of photographs, titled "The North American Indian," came to a close during the summer of 1927, when he spent the season with the Eskimos of sub-Arctic and Arctic Alaska.  The Eskimos, of necessity, were seafaring people, using kayaks and canoes to hunt at sea.  Seals, walrus and whales were a tremendous resource -- providing meat to be dried, smoked and cured, then stored and used as food during the winter.  The hunt for these animals was dangerous, but also thrilling and rewarding because only the most adept hunters could pilot safely their vessels through the icy arctic waters to secure food.

In the landscape of the Northwest, Curtis often found a perfect setting in which to portray Indian tribes whose culture and religion still seemed in complete harmony with their natural environment.  This is reflected in the poetic quality of his best photographs from the area, suggesting that the places and peoples he found in the Northwest exemplified the sacred legacy he strove to record.

The Great Plains

The year 1900 was a pivotal one for Curtis.  That summer, when he made a brief expedition to the Great Plains of the American West and Midwest, he witnessed one of the last great enactments of the Sun Dance: a key ritual of Plains Indian life.  As Curtis watched the Sun Dance ceremony, he conceived his vision for the grand photo-ethnographic undertaking that would become his life's work. These photographs formed the beginning of the vast, elegant portrait of Native American cultures that Curtis would bring to the world over the next 30 years.

During Curtis's time, the Indians of the Great Plains lived primarily in North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, a territory once traversed by great herds of migrating buffalo.  Curtis strongly was attracted to the fiercely independent way of life of such tribes as the Lakota (Sioux), Apsaroke and Piegan, and seemed particularly adept at transforming their dignity and pride into extraordinary photographic images.

Curtis's photographs of Indian life on the Great Plains comprise perhaps his most popular body of work: for many people, his photographs of chiefs 

Nootka seal hunter — 1915

and warriors, the intricate beadwork, the horses, and the Plains landscape have come to exemplify the American Indian.  However, his photographs of the Plains Indians also documented many other aspects of tribal life -- including hunting, warfare, vision quests and religious ceremonies.

The tribes of the Great Plains were the most formidable and powerful in North America, and they inspired Curtis by the majesty of their lives.  The great expanses of land and sky, the horses, the lodges, the sacred sun ceremonies -- all are depicted in Curtis's stirring Plains landscape photographs.

The Southwest

The summer of 1900 also brought Curtis to the American Southwest.  Initially, he chose to photograph the region's Hopi, Navajo and Apache tribes, and in the ensuing years, he would return to study and photograph the various tribes of the Southwest more frequently than those of any other area.

The Indians of the Southwest lived primarily in Arizona and New Mexico, although their presence also extended into parts of Texas, California and northern Mexico.  Because of the scarcity of vegetation, game and water in their semi-arid habitat, the tribal people of the Southwest became largely dependent on agriculture for subsistence.  As their reliance on agriculture grew, the Indians of the Southwest adopted an increasingly village-oriented culture.  In fact, some of their villages and pueblos have been inhabited continuously for hundreds of years, making them among the oldest permanent settlements still in use in North America today.

One reason Curtis was drawn to the Southwest Indian tribes was the opportunity they afforded him for an unusual glimpse into Indian life undiluted by the influence of European customs.  In the early 1900s, many people still lived in traditional ways, deeply attached to their ancient culture and religious practices.  Additionally, Curtis was fascinated by the strong relationship Southwest Indians had with their ancestral land, which in both its physical and metaphysical manifestations was at the center of their history, tradition and beliefs.  Virtually all practices revolved around it.

Curtis's immersion in the landscape and cultures of the Southwest Indian clearly is evident in the photographs he made in the region.  These images, and the written records that Curtis produced over several decades, mirror his deep understanding of the unique geocultural interplay of people and place.

Exhibit credits and itinerary

After decades of obscurity in rare book rooms and private collections, Curtis's remarkable photographic record of North American Indian life from 1900 to 1930 now is experiencing a renaissance, as scholars and other enthusiasts rediscover a dramatic visual testimonial to the proud history of North America's native peoples.

The photographs featured in the twin exhibits that will travel throughout Latin America are drawn from the archive and personal collection of Christopher Cardozo, widely recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on Curtis and his photography.  Cardozo is the author of six books on Curtis and is the founder/chair of the Edward S. Curtis Foundation.

Starting in early October, the two identical exhibits will open simultaneously in Guatemala and Argentina, and will circulate around the region until November 2006.  In addition to Guatemala and Argentina, the exhibits will be on display in Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, Paraguay and Peru.

Volcano Ilamatepec in El Salvador blows its top, killing two persons
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials have confirmed the deaths of at least two people as a result of Saturday's violent volcanic eruption in El Salvador's western coffee region.

Smoke and ash spewed more than 15 kilometers (nine miles) into the air when the Ilamatepec volcano
 erupted Saturday morning. Boiling water rushed down the slopes of the mountain as villagers evacuated, and reporters on the scene say they saw rocks as large as automobiles blasted into the air.

Ilamatepec, also known as the Santa Ana volcano, is located about 64 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital city of San Salvador.

Fox seems to back Canada on softwood trade dispute
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican President Vicente Fox has finished a two-day visit to Canada. While the main purpose of the visit was to increase trade between their countries, the Mexican leader and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin also discussed a trade dispute that has arisen between Canada and the United States.

Boosting Mexican-Canadian trade and strong support for the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were the main points in a speech President Fox gave Friday to the Vancouver Board of Trade. But Fox also made reference to a recent decision by the Bush Administration to ignore a NAFTA tribunal ruling on softwood lumber imports from Canada.

The NAFTA tribunal ruled that a tariff the U.S. government had imposed on imported softwood lumber from Canada was illegal and said that the $5 billion collected in duties should be returned to Canadian lumber companies.

The Bush Administration maintains that Canadian softwood lumber is subsidized by different provincial governments and that the tariff is needed so that U.S. lumber can compete fairly.

While not referring to the incident directly, the Mexican president made it clear that he sided with Canada in the dispute. He said abiding by NAFTA rulings created a better business environment.

"Mexico regrets any unilateral decisions that fail to abide by the decision of the arbitration panels where trade differences are discussed and aired," said Fox. " Mexico believes, that through the correct  implementation of the agreement, our countries will create better trade opportunities . . . "
The issue dominated a joint news conference that Prime Minister Martin held with Fox following a meeting of Canadian and Mexican cabinet ministers and business leaders.

In his comments, the Canadian prime minister was more blunt than Fox. Martin said what the Bush Administration is doing is wrong and promised that Canada would continue its efforts to get the United States to return the money it has collected.

"Now, that should have ended and the $5 billion that is being held, that belongs to Canadian companies, should have been returned to those Canadian companies," said Martin.

"That's the way the agreement should work. That's the way it was meant to work both in spirit and in the letter of the law. And it has been ignored by the Americans, and that is wrong. And we will take whatever actions are necessary in order to essentially make the letter and spirit of this agreement work."

In a written joint statement, Prime Minister Martin and President Fox discussed other issues, such as the importance of an elected U.N. Security Council, a western hemispheric free trade agreement, in addition to an upcoming climate change conference in Montreal.

The two leaders also received a report on the Canada-Mexico Partnership, an arrangement between the two countries to strengthen ties between governmental agencies and private industry.

President Fox started his visit in Calgary, which is often referred to as Canada's energy capital. While there, he talked about energy and natural resources with business executives and academics.

Independent Cuban journalist will be featured speaker at press confab
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Independent Cuban journalist Raúl Rivero will be one of the featured speakers next week at the General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he will relate the obstacles he faced trying to work in his native country, a totalitarian state ruled by dictator Fidel Castro.

The Miami-based IAPA, an independent advocacy group for journalists, said Rivero — who was freed from prison in November 2004 — is expected to call for the release of 75 dissidents from Cuba's jails when he attends the IAPA meeting.  Rivero and the other dissidents were imprisoned in March 2003 following the Cuban government's crackdown on independent thought.  The dissidents were jailed on what the international community calls trumped-up charges of having collaborated with the U.S. government.
The IAPA said Rivero founded the news agency Cuba Press in September 1995, building it into what the press association calls a "pioneer of independent journalism" in tightly controlled Cuba.  After being freed from prison, Rivero, who is vice chairman of the IAPA's Press Freedom Committee, reiterated his pledge to continue working for the release of the remaining imprisoned dissidents.

The IAPA's biannual General Assembly unites journalists, editors, and publishers from throughout the Americas. 

Other scheduled speakers at the event include José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States; U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican of Indiana, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and another Cuban independent journalist, Manuel Vásquez Portales, who gained his release from a Cuban prison in June 2004.

Jo Stuart
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