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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 199
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Real estate market appears to be rebounding
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some movement last week in Costa Rica’s real estate market suggests houses and condos are starting a rebound after the bashing they took last year.

For example, two advertisers in A.M. Costa Rica’s real estate classified pages reported this week that they have sold homes they had advertised there.

The market went into a brief panic when high-interest borrowing operations began to collapse beginning with the Villalobos Brothers last Oct. 14.  First to be hit was the rental market of properties sought by North Americans. Villalobos creditors were leaving town.

By February some homeowners realized that they could not continue their pre-collapse lifestyle and began makings efforts to sell their property and to downsize. A number of commercial operations, many run by North American investors, also went on the block. Some folded. Many are just hanging on.

However, the influx of new residents has continued, perhaps accelerated by the U.S. concern about terrorism. A steady stream of advertising by new arrivals or soon-to-arrives seeking places to stay  has continued non-stop.

Perhaps the hardest hit of all, commercial rentals, has not shown many recovery signs, suggesting that Costa Ricans and North 

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Americans overbuilt the office and storefront market. A new mall east of town also will keep the commercial market weak.  Office space continued to be a renter’s market.

However, most North Americans here are interested in residential property, and that is the sector that is showing signs of shaking off the rainy season blues and the impact of the failure of the Villalobos Brothers, Savings Unlimited, The Vault and a handful of smaller companies.

Several major residential developments at beach locations continue moving from the planning stages to full development.

One problem with the Costa Rican real estate market is that many sales agents were among those hit financially by the failure of the high-interest operations. Some have gone out of business leaving long-time customers and friends without real estate advice.

As always in a competitive market, sellers who offer a realistic price and possible financing are the first to successfully sell their properties.

Foundation efforts get young people better wheelchairs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Young people with cerebral palsy in the Parrita and Aguirre areas have new and better wheelchairs, thanks to the Fundación Roberta Félix and its friends.

The Costa Rican foundation develops resources for handicapped children in rural communities that otherwise have few options. In addition, the foundation develops and supports programs for children with learning disabilities and for children who live in poverty in the Pacific coast communities.

The foundation said that Clinica Biblica staffers helped with transportation and Costa Rican customs to bring the wheelchairs from the United States. The foundation also credited a 2001 volunteer, Sara Moore of Texas, for working there to expedite the wheelchairs.

A girl, identified as Gauday, 18, received a pink wheelchair, one that she has been awaiting for more than a year, the foundation said.

A young man with cerebral palsy, identified as Julio, 20, of Rio Seco, had been waiting two years, the foundation said. His family is very happy that he will now have a chair that enables him to have more mobility and also to develop the muscles in his upper body, said the foundation.

A 7-year-old identified as Roger also received a new  chair. The boy had been using a baby stroller which offered no support to his spine, the foundation said. The new wheelchair gives him the possibility to grow up with a straight spine and better health, the foundation said.


Gauday

 Julio

The foundation release said that volunteers James Moore and Alex Perez here and Jessica Umaña, the foundation secretary were instrumental in coordinating the efforts to bring the wheelchairs .

The foundation also announced that it is assembling a group to participate in the Special Olympics for retarded children and is seeking coaches for volleyball, soccer, equestrian activities, basketball, softball or table tennis. Those who may be interested can call 777-3336.

In addition, the foundation is planning to open a development center in February so it is in need of furniture, books, computers and any building material. Officials also will not turn down offers to help paint, plant or do light construction, the release said.

The foundation said it works with more than 100 children in Aguirre and Parrita. Its office is in the Hotel California in Manuel Antonio.

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Marc Harris faces
Fla. trial Nov. 10

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Marc Harris, the one-time guru of international finance, has been indicted again in Miami, Fla., where he is in jail.

This time the indictment is for tax evasion and conspiracy, and his new trial date is Nov. 10, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service

Harris had been indicted for money laundering allegations, and he was expelled from Nicaragua and arrested by U.S. agents last June on the strength of that indictment.

Harris headed a Panamá-based organization of the same name. He was flying high in 1997 and early 1998 and held seminars in San José for which investors paid up to $500, according to a businessman here who remembers Harris.

The public plan was to create vast networks of tax avoidance for U.S. citizens. In fact, a Miami reporter, David Marchant, uncovered his operation as a ponzi scheme in which old investors were paid with money placed by new investors — minus whatever Harris took off the top. 

Harris moved to Nicaragua last year after having financial difficulties in Panamá. He was detained in Managua.

The Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax collecting agency, had placed an ad  in A.M. Costa Rica seeking victims of the Harris operation.

Woman here needs
0-negative blood

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman with O negative blood has been hospitalized and needs donors to provide her with more of the rare type.

She is Gisela Baardse, the business manager of the Humbolt School in Pavas, who is recovering from an operation, according to Kevin Glass, principal of The Country Day School.

He said the German Embassy had issued the request. Those who wish to donate blood may contact Stefani Glass at the German Embassy Tel: 232-5533

Free trade term
up to 15 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will have up to 15 years in some cases to prepare for the impact of a free trade treaty with the United states, according to Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior.

The minister discussed the controversial trade treaty with members of the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Internacionales y Comercio Exterior at the Asamblea Nacional.

Trejos said that reductions in tariffs might be linear or non-linear for agricultural products during this period and that the treaty would contain prohibitions against subsidizing exported products.

Trejos said since the first meeting with U.S. negotiators that Costa Rica has made clear that opening the domestic telecommunications market would not be a possibility.

Meanwhile foes of any possible treaty are building their forces.  The Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente will host a speaker at 6 p.m. Thursday. The speaker is sociologist José Manuel Valverde and his topic is "La respuesta popular al neoliberalismo: Movimientos globales y locales."

In a release announcing the talk the organization talked about resistance to the treaty and referred to Costa Rican officials as lackeys. The talk is at the organization office. Directions are available at 283-6046 or 283-6046

Fox party handed
$50 million fine

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO, D.F. — Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute has voted to fine the political alliance that helped bring Vicente Fox to power for violating campaign finance rules. The autonomous institute voted late Monday to impose a fine of about $50 million on the National Action Party and the Green Party.

The institute said the parties violated a number of finance rules in the 2000 presidential election, including accepting foreign donations, which are prohibited under Mexican law.  The fine must be approved by the electoral institute's general council, which meets Friday.

Fox's presidential victory three years ago ended 71 years of consecutive rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Coral reefs get
influx of money

Special to A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is contributing $200,000 to assist states and territories with local projects to protect coral reefs and the species that depend on them.

This was announced by Craig Manson, assistant secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the 10th meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

"Coral reefs are among the world's most imperiled ecosystems — they are the next rainforests in terms of threats from human development," said Manson, the co-chairman of the task force. "This initial $200,000 will be seed money to get many projects off the ground. The time has come to take action, and we are taking it."
 

New anti-poverty chief

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fernando Trejos Ballesteros has been named the new executive president of the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social to replace Silvia Lara Povedano, who announced her resignation Monday.  Trejos has been vice minister of Trabajo.

The Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social is the principal governmental anti-poverty agency.
 

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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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Costa Rica better than most in corruption index
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transparency International came out with its 2003 corruption index Tuesday and Costa Rica again fared better than most, this time in 50th place of 133 countries.

The index is a complex attempt to see how residents and expats feel about corruption in each country. Corruption is defined as public officials taking advantage of their position for private gain.

Costa Rica was ranked with Greece and South Korea. 

Transparency said that the rank is not as important as the score. For example, Costa Rica was ranked 40th in 2001 with a score or 4.5 with 10 being mostly free of corruption. In that study there were 91 countries. This year Costa Rica is scored at 4.3 and ranked 50th of 133 countries.

The scores suggest a slight increase in the perception of corruption here.

At the regular Tuesday Casa Presidencial press conference President Abel Pacheco said that he has been told the country’s trend is the opposite.  Citing information from sources he felt were trustworthy, such as the Contraloría de la República, Pacheco said he believed that corruption had been reduced in the country. Such a reduction is one of his political goals.

The corruption index is a poll of polls, reflecting the perceptions of business people, academics and risk analysts, both resident and non-resident. First launched in 1995, this year’s index draws on 17 surveys from 13 independent institutions. 

"It is important to emphasize that the [index], even with 133 countries, is only a snapshot," said Peter Eigen, chairman of Transparency International. "There is not sufficient data on other countries, many of which are likely to be very corrupt."

The German-based organization published an extensive report on its Web site along with a detailed explanation of the methodology used.

The Transparency report put Finland in first place with a 9.7 score. Canada was tied with the United Kingdom and Luxembourg at eighth place with a score of 8.7. The U.S. was in 18th place along with Ireland with a 7.5 score.

Nicaragua was at 88th with a score of 2.6. At the bottom, No. 133, was Bangladesh with a 1.3 score.

Transparency said the index provides a snapshot of the views of decision-makers, who take key decisions on investment and trade. The index builds public awareness of the corruption issue, and it draws the attention of governments to the negative image of their nation that low rankings in the index reflect, adding another reason for them to address the problem, according to a press release with the report.

The organization stressed that the perception of corruption was different than actual corruption.

"Rich countries must provide practical support to developing country governments that demonstrate the political will to curb corruption," according to Eigen.  "In addition, those countries starting with a high degree of corruption should not be penalized, since they are in the most urgent need of support," he said in London while releasing the 2003 report.

The new index points to high levels of corruption in many rich countries as well as poorer ones, making it imperative that developed countries enforce international conventions to curb bribery by international companies, and that private businesses fulfill their obligations under international agreements, said Eigen. 

"Nine out of 10 developing countries score less than 5 against a clean score . . . . Their governments must implement results-oriented programs to fight corruption, but they also urgently require practical help tailored to the needs of their national anti-corruption strategies," he said.

The report also was released in San José by the organization’s Costa Rican vice president, Mario Carazo. 


 
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