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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 203                          Email us
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Mar Vista


Real estate recovering but slowly, professionals say
By Kayla Pearson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The real estate market is making a recovery and, since land prices have decreased, it is ideal for those who are interested in buying properties in Costa Rica, said Realtors based around the Pacific coast and metro areas.

However, the recovery is traveling at a slow pace, and sellers are having to settle for lower prices, they added.

These are the general sentiments based on telephone interviews with brokers.

“Buyers can ask for refinancing and they'd get it,” said Ryan Bishop of Cabo Velas Properties in Matapalo.  “They can ask for a 20 percent reduction, and they'd get it.  Sellers are not in a position to not negotiate.”

“But sellers are not as apt to take low ball offers anymore,” he added.

The majority of Realtors report that they have had an overall good year with the exception of the slow season.

One professional, Scott Cutter of 2 Costa Rica Real Estate in Escazú, Manuel Antonio and Jacó, said this is his best year since he opened. He attributes his success to the practice of pricing properties at a point where buyers will respond, being honest with the current value, and providing education to his sellers so they understand the current situation.

“We don't waste our time or our clients time,” Cutter said.  “There are bad realtors out there, and we get the reputation that we just want to make easy money.  So we educate our sellers with real data.”

This is not every brokers story, and some report that business has been down.

One problem is the number of tourists reported coming in are not traditional tourists looking for property.

“Visitors, unlike before, are not buyers, they are just visiting,” said Roger Vlasos of Pacifico Realty in Playa del Coco.  “Before they had a motivation to buy.  Now they aren't even looking.”

According to Linda Gray who is president of the Costa Rican Global Association of Realtors, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo reported that there are 2 million tourists.  This number is skewed, she said, and within this number are people who own property and live here part-time.

Also lumped in are perpetual tourists who renew their visas by traveling to places such as Nicaragua and return. 

A.M. Costa Rica also has reported that the institute annual figures include some 460,000 Nicaraguans.
For sale

This means there are less persons here for perspective business than anticipated.

Ms. Gray said that everyone is trying to make the best out of the situation and calling the economy a buyers market is one way of making the otherwise negative outlook a positive. 

Most brokers are working to get their sellers the best price, and won't work with persons who are unmotivated and willing to settle for the first thing offered, she added. She is an owner of Coldwell Banker Beach Properties in Playas del Coco.

The future state of the market seems to depend on a variety of factors that include the upcoming United States elections and the worldwide economy.

“No matter who gets elected, there might be a mass exit from those who don't have economic faith in the government,” Ms. Gray said.

The next wave of immigrants are predicted to be the baby boomers.  Also, there have been Europeans, Spaniards, Canadians and Chinese developing projects here, although Ms. Gray says she hasn't seen a lot of Chinese developments in the beach region.

In terms of the economy, these people need to feel secure and comfortable enough to make investments, because those who buy beachfront properties in Costa Rica are looking for a second home, said Ms. Gray.  Home buying is not a necessity, so perspective buyers have to have a strong desire to buy, she added. The increased value of the dollar will also increase property values.

Other factors that contribute to the market is the increase of taxes, difficulty to receive bank loans and the long time it takes to get building permits in Costa Rica.

Until these get better, the professional agrees that the market will remain hard for those who wish to sell property.  This could last anywhere from two to five years, they predicted.


Expat prevails once again against forgery allegation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Once again an expat Central Pacific property owner has been declared innocent of forgery. This is the third time that a court in Puntarenas made that pronouncement in the case of Sheldon Haseltine and his lawyer.

But the case is not over yet. Haseltine said that as the Tuesday hearing drew to a close, the lawyer for the complainants in the case said he would appeal.

Haseltine had been cleared twice before, but an appeals panel remanded the case back to the trial court twice before on technicalities.

The evidence is so conclusive that even the prosecutor has sided with the accused.

The allegation is that Haseltine and his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez, forged the signature of a Costa Rican consul in The Bahamas on a document giving the expat the right to act on behalf of his corporation. The document is important in another case in which Haseltine hopes to validate his ownership of valuable land in the central Pacific. He
has been fighting for nearly 15 years. The corporation is registered in Panamá, but administered in The Bahamas.  The document required and got the seal of the Costa Rican consulate in The Bahamas.

The prosecutor, Dixiela Madrigal Mora, has reported that she spoke with the consular official who verified that he signed the document.

The persons who raised the forgery allegation are Armando González Fonseca, a well-known Costa Rican businessman, and Martha Sandoval, who has lived on one of Haseltine’s properties.  Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora is representing the complainants.

Armando Rodríguez, the judge, rejected a demand by the complainants for 100 million colons and, instead, ordered them to pay 15 million each, plus costs, Haseltine said.

González also is a party in the case that seeks to determine the ownership of the valuable property. He is on record saying that he purchased rights to the property from a squatter.

An appeal date is expected in a few weeks.

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A.M. Costa Rica's  Second news page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 203
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Costa Rica Expertise

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Judicial raids seek proofs
in thefts of donated asphalt


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial and anti-corruption investigators led police on 16 raids Wednesday to look into embezzlement and theft of asphalt donated by the state-owned oil refinery.

The institutions raided included 10 municipal offices across the country, five businesses and one private residence. Some 200 persons participated in the raids.

In a release detailing the raids, a deputy government corruption prosecutor said that these institutions requested and took more asphalt than they actually needed for their projects and in some cases twice as much.

In 2010, municipalities requested asphalt officials thought they would need to repair roads in the coming year from the state-owned monopoly, Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, or RECOPE.

Local governments must submit detailed plans of how they will use the asphalt in order to receive the donations.

However in these cases, refinery engineers and investigators noticed that many of the roads in these municipalities were still falling into disrepair without any new asphalt applied to smooth them out, according to the release.

The municipalities include Golfito, Cartago, Jiménez, Cóbano, Liberia, Buenos Aires, Barva de Heredia, Santa Bárbara de Heredia, San Pablo de Heredia and Paquera.

In all cases except in Liberia, about two thirds of the asphalt ordered was missing. The most egregious case was Buenos Aires, where none of the 120,000 liters of asphalt it ordered went to the streets that it was supposed to, said judicial officials.

According to the release from the Ministerio Público, which internally investigates government corruption among other tasks, municipalities contracted with private companies to transport the asphalt from the refinery in Moín to their districts.

The release says that all municipalities contracted with one company, Transportes Otto Corrales, Ltda. in San Miguel de Santo Domingo de Heredia. The allegation is that the trucking firm handed off the asphalt to other private companies instead of the local governments.

Those companies include Grupo Orosí Siglo XXI S.A. in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, Empresa Concreto Asfáltico Nacional in Calle Blancos, Empresa Constructora RAASA, S.A. in Tejar del Guarco, Cartago, and Empresa Constructora RAASA, S.A. in Carrillo, Guanacaste.


 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
 HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 203
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Less than 400 convictions reported after 17,000 youth crimes
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The number of criminal charges filed against minors in Costa Rica went up for the fourth straight year in 2011, according to a report released by the Poder Judicial's statistics department.

The report said that just over 17,000 charges were filed against minors between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2011. Investigators recalculated that as 40 out of every 1,000 minors charged with crimes.

Less than 400 of these cases resulted in a conviction and some form of punishment, the report said.

Nearly a third of these cases were filed with the juvenile court in San José alone. Another third of these cases were filed in juvenile courts of Pococí, Cartago, Limón and Alajuela.

The report is part of a process in which the Sección de Estadísticas of the Poder Judicial releases sets of crime statistics from the previous year piecemeal.

Researchers said that 17,000 charges filed against minors in 2011 represents a 4.3 percent increase in cases from the previous year, which translates to an increase of about 700 cases.
Young women were accused of crime at a surprisingly high rate. The report says that out of the 40 per 1,000 minors charged, 12 of them were women, or just under a third of the cases.

The report also says that about 80 percent of these cases were for crimes, while only about 19 percent were for more minor violations.

Less than 1 percent of these cases were for traffic violations.

In all, only 670 cases resulted in a sentence being handed down to the minor, according to the report. Only about half of these were actually sentenced to some form of punishment, usually for robbery. The other half were acquitted.

The report says the average age of the minors convicted and sentenced to a punishment was 16.4, and most of these convicts were given probation, kept in a special center for convicted youth, ordered to perform community service, restitution and other common punishments for minors.

Additionally, researchers found that San José led by far in the number of cases with about 4,800. After that, both the Atlantic region based in Pococí and Cartago each had about 1,600 cases, the region based in Limón Centro had about 1,200 cases and Alajuela had just over 1,000 cases.


President signs decree that prohibits importation of shark fins
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Laura Chinchilla took the long-awaited final step Wednesday and signed a decree prohibiting the importation of shark fins and the practice itself.

The fin trade is big business in the Puntarenas area, but officials have been cracking down on the practice due to pressure from environmental groups.

In July 2011 a letter signed by 4,039 Costa Rican citizens was delivered Tuesday to President Chinchilla urging her to sign an executive decree banning shark fin imports.  The letter was also signed by 324 citizens of 39 countries, from Taiwan to the United Kingdom who are concerned over shark finning and the new loophole that the foreign fishing fleet now uses to circumvent Costa Rican controls and laws.

Costa Rican officials in the Pacific port have generally been accommodating of the shark fin trade. However, the country eventually ordered that a law requiring sharks to be landed with their fin attached be respected.

The usual practice was to cut off the fins at sea and dump the still living shark overboard to die. Although shark flesh is eaten frequently on the coasts and is available in Central Valley markets, it is not a premium product.

Costa Rica then also ordered that fishing boats unload their catches at public docks where they may be inspected. And then, as Casa Presidencial noted Wednesday, shark finning is now prohibited completely.
shark fins
Programa de Restauración de Tortugas Marinas photo
Shark fins drying on a Puntarenas rooftop in a file photo

Shark fin exporters quickly adjusted their efforts to compensate for the stronger enforcement. The Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas reported last year that the shark fins were being unloaded in Nicaragua and trucked to Costa Rica for drying and processing.

President Chinchilla signed the decree in Manuel Antonio Wednesday. It will be effective when published. However, there is a possibility that the operators of the lucrative shark finning trade may take legal action. The Chinese market for the fins is huge because soup from the fins is a great delicacy there.
Environmentalists argue that the shark is a valuable component of the marine environment, and that shark finners overfish.


Nosara gets more than its share of moderate earthquakes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers who like their martini shaken and not stirred should consider a move to Nosara on the far Pacific coast.

Earthquakes are a daily event there. Four quakes took place Wednesday, including one with a 5.2 magnitude that was felt in the Central Valley. That was at 6:20 a.m.

The epicenter was estimated by the Laboratorio de Ingeniería Sísmic at the Universidad de Costa Rica to be 13 kilometers
southeast of Nosara. Then 22 minutes later a quake estimated at 4.1 magnitude took place 3.3 kilometers east of Nosara.

There also was a 3.4-magnitude quake at 7:35 a.m. 3.5 kilometers east northeast of Nosara and one at 10:44 a.m. with a 3.2 magnitude that was estimated to have taken place 12.8 kilometers north of Nosara.

All are believed to be replications from the 7.6-magnitude quake that took place Sept. 5. The cause is the subduction of the Cocos tectonic plate under the lighter Caribbean.

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Fish Fabulous Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 203
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Country gets a red card in U.N. summary of malnutrition
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The 2012 edition of “State of Food Insecurity in the World” finds Costa Rica losing ground in eliminating malnutrition, relative to recent years. Latin America as a whole has shown more progress than other regions.

Published by the U. N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the report has data from most countries going back to 1990 gathered in household surveys. Malnutrition is here defined as insufficient calories for normal activities, without taking into consideration other aspects of nutrition like adequate vitamins and minerals.

Overall, the world’s malnourished dropped from about a billion to 868 million in 20 years, or from 18.6 to 12.5 percent taking into consideration population growth.

Latin America progressed from 57 to 42 million which is 13.6 to 7.7 percent. Brazil accounted for the lion’s share with more than 10 million people escaping malnutrition.
Older surveys had always found the percentage of Costa Rican residents not getting adequate nutrition at less than 5 percent of the population, but the 2010-2012 period’s data had 6.5 percent. That equates to about 280,000 people, mostly in rural areas.

Even if a minor statistical anomaly, the backwards step has the country flagged red on the agency’s progress report, along with Guatemala and Paraguay as the only countries in Latin America so categorized.

The report also revised downward its earlier estimates of the impact of food price spikes in recent years, noting that developing countries in general were not affected much by the 2008-2009 recession in Europe and North America. The largest countries like China, India, and Indonesia have mechanisms in place to blunt short-term spikes.

Costa Rica’s poor pay high prices for rice, the staple along with black beans, at all times due to price supports for domestic farmers.


Online slide show features photos of structures on currency
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Late last month some 88 photographers combed the metro area to take shots for a Museos de Banco Central contest.

The biggest stipulation was that the photos show architectural sites that are featured on the country's currency. Banco  Central issues the money.

The photographers managed to locate and photograph 22 buildings or objects, including buildings at the Universidad de Costa Rica and a fountain in Parque Central. One of the museums below the Plaza de la Cultura is the Museo de Numismática.

For readers outside the San José area, the best part of the contest is that photos of the winners, old photographs of the sites that were pictures and examples of the buildings on banknotes and coins have been posted to the Web. A slide show also names the photographer. That online exhibition is HERE!

Some of the structures, such as the first headquarters of a state bank, no longer exist. So the photographers made shots of what is on the site now. More modern structures show up, too. The new Estadio Nacional was featured briefly on a commemorative coin when it opened.
buildings on
                money
 Detail of the old 10-colon note that featured the general
 studies building at the Universidad de Costa Rica.


That photo made its way into the slide show, too.

The museum said that starting Oct. 27, the winning photos in the juried exhibit will be on display there.

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Medical issues top topic
for 20 percent of likely voters


By the Harvard School of Public Health news staff

A new analysis of 37 national opinion polls conducted by 17 survey organizations finds that health care is the second most important issue for likely voters in deciding their 2012 presidential vote. This is the highest that health care has been ranked as a presidential election issue since 1992.

When likely voters were asked to choose from a list of issues, similar to the approach used in election-day exit polls, one in five (20 percent) named “health care and Medicare” as the most important issue in their 2012 voting choice, far behind “the economy and jobs” (cited by 51 percent).

"The economy dominates most voters’ thinking in terms of their priorities for choosing a candidate,” said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of the analysis. It appears as an online special report in the New England Journal of Medicine. “But in a close election, the two candidates’ stands on health care issues could help swing the balance among some voters.”

Likely voters who said “health care and Medicare” will be the most important issue in deciding their presidential vote were much more supportive of the Affordable Care Act than the public in general is. Despite two and a half years of contentious debate, the public has not changed its view: Americans’ assessment of the act remains mixed. Although several elements of the law are popular, since the law’s passage the majority of Americans (in an average of polls) has not approved of it.

Americans have been relatively evenly divided in their opinions. An average of current polls shows that 44 percent approve of the act, and 45 percent disapprove. However, among likely voters who said “health care/Medicare was the most important issue in their voting choice, 41 percent said they were much less likely to vote for a candidate who supported repealing all or part of the act. Some 14 percent said they were much more likely to vote for such a candidate.

The analysis also looked at the issue of changing Medicare in the future to a system in which the government provides seniors with a fixed sum of money as a voucher they could use to purchase either private health insurance or Medicare coverage. An average of current polls of the general public shows that 27 percent favor such a proposed change, while a majority (66 percent) are opposed. Among likely voters who said “health care/Medicare” was the most important issue in their voting choice, 39 percent said they were much less likely to vote for a candidate who supported such a change in Medicare; 11 percent said they were much more likely to vote for such a candidate.

These results suggest that “health care/Medicare voters” are siding with Barack Obama on the Affordable Care Act and Medicare issues in the election.

Another issue that has emerged during the 2012 campaign is placing substantial new limits on the availability of abortion services. Abortion was found to be the top issue for 4 percent of likely voters. The general public is divided, with more people favoring restrictions on abortion. About half (52 percent) say that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances or legal in only a few circumstances; 44 percent believe abortion should be legal under any or most circumstances.

However, a large majority (83 percent) of the public believes abortion should be legal when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. Among likely voters who said abortion would be the most important issue in the presidential voting choice, 61 percent said they were much more likely to vote for a candidate who favored placing substantial new limits on abortion services, a position similar to that held by Mitt Romney. Some 24 percent said they were much less likely to vote for such a candidate.

Many likely voters who are opposed to the Affordable Care Act or favor major changes in Medicare may not rank “health care and Medicare” as the top issue in their voting choice. They may see “the economy and jobs” or “the federal deficit and taxes” as most important.

An additional factor that influences election outcomes for incumbent presidents is the public’s assessment of their record – in this case, the President’s record on health care – during their first term. President Obama’s approval rating on handling health care is 41 percent with 52 percent disapproving. In terms of perceptions of progress, the majority of Americans believe the problem of health care costs in the United States has worsened during the past five years (65 percent). Only 27 percent see quality of care as having improved, although about equally few (25 percent) think it has worsened.

“Despite the historic nature of the health care legislation that was enacted during President Obama’s first term, the public remains quite mixed in their views about his performance on health care,” said Blendon.


Chávez sees his election
as a mandate for socialism


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President Hugo Chavez's election victory appears to mean that relations between Venezuela and the United States will remained strained.  Chávez has been a fierce critic of the U.S. while nurturing friendships with U.S. adversaries like Cuba, Iran, and Syria, and his first news conference after his election seemed to reinforce some of those positions.

At his first news conference since winning re-election and after recovering from three cancer-related surgeries since 2011, President Chavez was in good spirits.  The Venezuelan leader said he considers the 54 percent of the vote he garnered as a mandate to continue his socialist policies.

“The country voted for the continuation of a political agenda, an economic agenda, a social agenda, in short, a socialist agenda,” Chávez stated.

Chávez said he is open to dialogue with the opposition but that he would not compromise on his core principles. 

On foreign affairs, Chavez has been one of the United States' most vocal critics.  He has allied Venezuela with autocratic leaders in Cuba, Iran and Syria.

Milos Alcalay is a former deputy foreign minister now aligned with the opposition.  He says the opposition wants market-oriented reforms at home and a less confrontational foreign policy with the U.S. “Because our relations are not with Ahmadinejad or with Syria of Bashar al-Assad or with the sort of Libya's Gadhafi but with the respect in hemispheric relations where all our basic treaties lie,” he said.

But at the news conference, President Chávez again spoke in support of Syria's leaders and against what he calls a new era of western imperialism.

“Syria is a sovereign country for the love of God, just like Libya, just like Venezuela, just like the United States, just like any other country in the world.  So if we don't agree?  But we have to agree with the thinking of who?  If you say no, then bomb you and destabilize you?  That is not right,” Chávez explained.

Separately, Chávez said he favors President Barack Obama in next month's U.S. election. “By how much do you think Obama will win, who by the way is my candidate.  He is my candidate," he added. "If I was from North America I would vote for Obama.”

President Chávez says he will continue to be who he is and for many that is at times confounding, confrontational, and engaging.
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Wind farms taking their toll
on migratory birds and bats


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Wind power is key to efforts to produce clean, limitless energy and to slow global warming. It's one of the world's fastest-growing energy industries. But there is mounting evidence that expanding wind farms are taking a toll on airborne wildlife. Thousands of birds and bats are killed every year by collisions with the the wind towers and their giant blades. Environmental activists are taking the wind energy industry to court to find a solution.
 
Estimates by the Department of Energy indicate that in the United States alone, there will be more than 100,000 wind turbines by 2030.
 
John Anderson is policy director at the American Wind Energy Association. “As time goes on, I think you will see wind replacing older plants that are being taken offline, but we are really capturing the new installation market," he said.
 
But wind energy developers, in California and West Virginia, are being sued by environmental groups. A growing number of groups contend that hundreds of thousands of birds and bats are being killed every year by wind turbines, mostly at night when bats and migratory birds fly around mountain ridges where many wind farms are located. 
 
Kelly Fuller, with the American Bird Conservancy, said, “In 2009, an expert at the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated 440,000 birds were being killed by wind turbines a year. That was before we had more growth of the industry.”
 
West Virginia, in the eastern U.S., is a migratory corridor for birds. It's also an important habitat for bats -- millions of which have been dying from White Nose Syndrome. The illness has brought some species to the brink of extinction.  Now they face another threat.
 
Judy Rodd is director of Friends of Blackwater, a West Virginia conservation group.  She says a nearby cave, close to a wind farm, houses thousands of hibernating bats during the winter.  “The first year, they found 430 dead bats and I think 50 dead birds in a very preliminary sketchy study. The expert that analyzed those numbers, Dr. Tom Kunz from Boston University, estimated that finding 430 dead bats meant that actually 10,000 bats had been killed in one year," she said.
 
That's because the carcasses are scavenged by foxes, crows and other predators.
 
The U.S. government supports wind energy development to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to fight global warming.
 
David Cottingham is senior adviser at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  He says the service does not have the authority to halt a wind project that's on a migratory path. “But we do have the authority to prosecute them for violating the endangered species act," he said.
 
Despite efforts to reduce wildlife collisions, no permanent solution has been found. The wind industry opposes shutting down or limiting turbine operations. 
 
Industry, government, and environmental experts agree that choosing different locations for wind farms could be a good solution.  But often the best wind currents are found in the paths that migratory birds and bats have been using for millions of years. 







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