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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 208                          Email us
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Mar Vista

The Térraba-Sierpe humedal or wetlands is just four kilometers from the proposed airport site, and that raises concern about possible flooding.

Sistema National de Áreas de Conservación

Stanford study raises questions on proposed airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new 62-page report raises major questions about the viability, planning and impact of a $42 million international airport in southwestern Costa Rica.

The document, issued through an arm of California's Stanford University, says that the impact may be a negative one for operators of small hotels and residents. At worst, the government would waste money building the airport if it did not generate the positive economic results officials hope.

The author is Katiana Murillo Aguilar, a Costa Rican identified online as the communications officer at the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development. The supporting organization is the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

Said the institute: The Osa & Golfito Initiative is designed to build on the many previous efforts in the region, working hand in hand with Costa Ricans in local communities, in the public and private sector, and with non-profits to create a shared vision and long-term strategic plan for a sustainable future for the Osa and Golfito region. The project integrates the sociocultural dimensions of the Osa and Golfito region with both its marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

The lengthy study came from site visits, available documents and interviews with 19 key public officials, hotel operators, airline managers, academics, organization representatives and real estate brokers.

The Stanford institute also is studying the impact of the Diquis Dam on the Terraba Sierpe Wetlands and the marine life of the region.

The airport study stops short of saying whether the project would be good or bad for the region. However, it warns against the kind of unbridled growth that has been seen in Guanacaste as a result of a major increase in tourism and investments.

A massive arrival of tourists via an international airport and the expansion of infrastructure and services will change forever the model of tourism that characterizes the region without necessarily translating into major benefits for the population, said the report.

The regional airport has been promoted by two administrations as a way to bring development to the southwestern part of the country. The transport ministry is awaiting an environmental impact study of the project. The proposal calls for a 2.2 kilometer (1.3-mile)  runway. There are a handful of smaller airports in the area, but none able to handle big passenger jets.

The site is just four kilometers from the sensitive
 Six cantons make up the Brunca region that are
 presumed to benefit from the proposed airport.

Térraba-Sierpe mangrove. One conclusion of the study is that the airport master plan minimizes the risk of flooding by depending on the Diquis Dam that has not yet been built.

The study also concludes that there is not an integrated vision of the project and, like a puzzle, there are incomplete pieces in different hands and there is a lack of fundamental information of the opportunities and the risks that would allow governments to make an informed decision.

If an airport is constructed, it ought to be one piece within a process of integrated regional planning and not the axis around which development is awaited with the risks, in case of a growth of demand, of repeating the experience of Guanacaste, which should be avoided, it said.

The study said that there is a risk that nature lovers visitors who come to the area now will be displaced by what the report called natrualeza light, that is those who prefer all-inclusive resorts which represent less income for the communities. This change of profile would attract big hotel investments that would compete with many of the small establishments that exist today, it said.  There also would be an increase in the demand for utilities of public institutions, it added.

A major problem with development in Guanacaste has been the availability of water for new condos. That issue still has not been resolved.

The study also noted the unique archaeology of the Palmar area. This is the home of the stone spheres that are being considered as an artifact of world heritage by the United Nations. The impact on the archaeology of the area must be determined, said the report.

The question if an international airport is a necessary investment should be analyzed with care to determine if the project responds to the needs of the residents. The study urged that a consensus be reached among the different sectors of the region.

Native group takes exception to tales of stone balls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public officials and national-level lawmakers may like the spheres project in the Cantón de Osa, but the descendants of those who made the large stone objects do not share the enthusiasm.

The spheres project opened this week with an inauguration sprinkled with local officials. The gathering runs through Saturday and generally has been seen as a boost for local tourism. It is the creation of Spanish astrologer Vicente Cassanya.

The Asociación de Desarrollo Indígena de Curré issued a statement Wednesday urging a boycott of
the event. The Boruca native group was irked by statements on the spheres Web site that said nobody knows for certain who made them and who put them in their places.

The statements also suggest that magic or perhaps residents of the legendary Atlantis might have had a hand in the construction of the giant stone balls.

Denying the native construction of the spheres is eurocentric and racist, said the statement. The group also said that such gatherings that make use of the archaeological resources of the area ought to begin with consultations with the native residents, descendants of the peoples who left this legacy.

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Another hole in a highway
brings a sheet metal cure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The last thing that highway officials needed was another crater. But they got one Wednesday on the elevated highway that runs along the east side of Mall San Pedro. 

The Consejo de Vialidad immediately closed the right hand southbound lane.

The plan was to place a piece of sheet steel over the hole, and crews were working into the night to do just that.

The highway is the Circunvalación that runs along the east and south sides of the downtown area. The hole in the highway evoked memories of the one that caused the shutdown of westbound lanes on the General Cañas highway. Repairs there still are being made.

By comparison, the new hole is a baby, just four feet in diameter. And the hole does not go completely through the roadway. There is a web of steel rebar that is exposed and which prevents a vehicle tire from dropping into the opening.

After the temporary fix is made, officials said that to repair the road completely will require about three weeks.

Free photo exhibit geared
to promote the art here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Photography lovers can indulge next weekend in Expo Foto 2012, a free series of seminars geared toward the education of photographers.

The program appears for the second time in Costa Rica and includes photography exhibits and educational lectures and films from renowned national and international photographers.  It will last from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28.

"With Expo Foto we are looking to develop photography in our country and create the opportunity for all photographers to share with domestic and overseas professionals," said Expo Foto producer Paulina Segura. “Furthermore, we want the public to enjoy a photographic exhibition and the trends of the photography market.”

The photographic display will feature 103 pictures from 58 different artists of nine countries.  Judges chose the pictures based on the artists theme, technique and aesthetics. 

Cuban photographer Roberto Salas will also have an exhibition of his contemporary works since 2007 on display during the entire seminar.

Seven different lectures will take place over the three days and organizers will play three films that show the role of photographers in the world. 

Some notable photography presenters will be Guatemalan Iván Castro, Costa Rican and co-founder of Photo Media Express Jose Tenorio, Costa Rican and co-founder of Expo Foto Gustavo Valley and Costa Rican Mario Peraza.

Also, 20 companies will sell photographic equipment, printers, accessories and photographic services in commercial exhibits.

Everything will take place in Antigua Aduana in east San José and is free.

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
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A.M. Costa Rica Third News Page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday Oct. 18, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 208
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License proposal would crack down on illegal brokers
By Aaron Knapp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A chamber representing real estate brokers in Costa Rica announced Wednesday that it is drafting a law that would require all real estate brokers to have licenses.

To get a license all real estate brokers would have to take classes.

If the chamber's plan is made law, foreigners would no longer be able to come to Costa Rica and sell real estate without first getting a license and without first getting the proper residency that allows them to work.

“One of the prime reasons behind us wanting a legitimate real estate law that makes brokers licensed in this country is that they have to pay their social obligations to the Caja, that they have to pay their social obligations to Tributación,” said John Kartman, an expat real estate broker. The Dirección General de Tributación is the Costa Rica tax collector.

He has been working here for 20 years as a real estate broker and he said that all foreigners here should follow the same rules, adding: “We don't want anyone coming here just saying they're a broker and representing that they're an expert in the field and people being taken or tricked into buying something that's not exactly as it's being presented. There has to be ethics, and those ethics need to be backed up by a licensed realtor."

The organization, the Cámara Costariccense de Corredores de Bienes Raíces, has been seeking a license requirement for real estate brokers for years.

At a conference Wednesday morning, the president of the chamber, Aleyda Bonilla, explained that licensing makes the entire process of buying and selling real estate more transparent and more secure for clients.

She also explained that this legislation would not create a colegio, such as the legislation drafted by a tourism chamber that is currently with the Asamblea Legislativa. This would simply create an institute that gives the licenses that brokers must obtain before working in the industry.

Ms. Bonilla also added the chamber is currently the only institution that offers those classes.
real estte

The chamber also unveiled a new rule book at the conference outlining “The rules of the game” for real estate brokers. These rules are not all legally binding, but they apply to those brokers who are part of the chamber.  The book is in Spanish. However, some of the rules do overlap with the law when it comes to expats buying and selling property.

There is currently no law preventing expats from becoming real estate brokers and chamber's rules do not object to this. However, both the rules and the law state that it is illegal for expats to work without the proper cédula allowing those things.

Presumably the law that the chamber conceived would begin enforcing these rules. That would strain if not shut down some expat real estate businesses in Costa Rica.

Kartman a proponent of the idea, said it would also make sure that these brokerages are paying taxes. He said it would also prevent swindlers from stealing money from unsuspecting buyers.

Ms. Bonilla also presented a plan by members of the chamber to begin creating its own property price index for the entire country. The index would only assess land value and not the value of a structure. She said that assessors will begin with San José, then work on the metropolitan area, and gradually extend outwards to the rest of the country.

In a related comment, Jeff Fisher, owner-broker of CR Beach Investment Real Estate correctly pointed out in an email Wednesday that a four-year university degree is not a requirement in countries to the north. Although some universities offer such programs, there are lesser educational requirements in both the United States and Canada. A news story Wednesday said that a university degree was a requirement in some areas to the north.

AmCham statement says government is the biggest problem
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce called on the government to take action in making Costa Rica more competitive for business.

A release before an all-day conference Wednesday said that the government is the biggest problem facing Costa Rican businesses because it allows time-consuming processes, bureaucracy, taxes, infrastructure problems and corruption to go on.

The release calls this a social breach that causes a slow economy, insecurity and poverty.

Numerous public officials took part in the conference in order to establish a dialogue of how to fix the problems, including President Laura Chinchilla, who gave a speech that closed the conference.

Organizers of the third annual AmCham Competitiveness
Summit made the theme of the event “the Costa Rica we need by 2020.” The event was geared largely towards medium and large businesses, many of which have significant international clout.

The summit's main events were three discussion panels. These were moderated by prominent journalists, and the panels combined government officials with members of the private industry. A leader in the industry would give a speech after each panel discussion.

Two panels focused on general reforms, but the third panel specifically dealt with electricity and its effects on businesses.

This panel pitted Gravin Mayoraga, manager of electricity at the Instituto Nacional de Electricidad, against the presidents of two chambers representing electricity producers and consumers.

Organizers planned for the summit to allow both government and industry representatives to come together and work out solutions to the problems faced by the industry.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Thursday Oct. 18, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 208
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Thousands of eggs
stolen from beach

Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas officer collects some of the 1,320 turtle eggs confiscated in  Moín de Limón Monday. Officers detained two persons and found turtle eggs cooking on a stove (inset) in a shack some 30 meters from the beach.

turtle eggs
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photos

Brother and sister detained as suspects in threatening a judge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents detained a brother and sister Wednesday and said they were responsible for threats against a judge and for  a series of bullets that were fired against a judicial office in Escazú.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the case had been under investigation for three months.

The agency's summary left unclear if the threats had something to do with the female judge's work or if the dispute was personal.

The 29-year-old woman who was detained Wednesday was reported to be working in the same offices as the judge who received the threats.

The shooting took place in July, said the judicial agency. A day later, the judge received a telephone call linking her to the shots and telling her to leave her job. She did not.

The woman and her 38-year-old brother were taken into custody in a judicial raid at 6 a.m. Wednesday in Escazú Centro.

Agents also searched a home in Alajuelita for evidence, the agency said.

Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Judicial worker, 29, is taken into custody at her home.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday Oct. 18, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 208
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Cuba decides to let
its people go overseas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Cuban government says it no longer will require its citizens to apply for an exit visa if they wish to travel overseas. 

An announcement in the Communist Party newspaper Granma says Cubans will only have to show a passport and a visa from the country they plan to visit. Cuba's government currently requires a letter of invitation, along with the exit visa, before its people can leave the island.

Havana also is extending the amount of time its citizens are allowed to remain abroad from 11 months to 24 months. The new policies take effect in mid-January 2013. 

The Castro government imposed the severe travel restrictions decades ago to prevent an exodus of talented professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and engineers, a phenomenon known as a "brain drain."

Tuesday's announcement, however, hinted that some restrictions will continue.

Citing "the right of the revolutionary state to defend itself" against interference by the U.S. government and its allies, it said Cuba's government will maintain unspecified "measures" to prevent the theft of "human capital created by the revolution."

iPhone leads good news
in U.S. consumer buying

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

American consumers may be feeling better about the economy.  The Commerce Department says overall retail spending exceeded expectations in September as consumers spent more on electronics goods and cars. A recent string of positive data bodes well for the all-important holiday shopping season.

An improving job picture, better than expected earnings on Wall Street and signs of recovery in the troubled housing market are helping to lift American consumer confidence.

Many opened their wallets in September, boosting retail sales 1.1 percent and giving retailers an early start on the holiday shopping season.

Economist Cary Leahey says electronics led gains, with the launch of Apple's newest iPhone lifting sales in that sector 4.5 percent.

"I've even seen people say out loud Christmas came early, I bought myself an iPhone. So I think Christmas has come early, and it's off to a very good start," Leahey said.

Higher gasoline prices also contributed to the increase in consumer spending, which accounts for nearly two thirds of the U.S. economy.  Americans also bought more cars and spent more money on food and drinks.

That could prompt companies to restock store shelves at a faster rate ahead of November's Black Friday, a day that traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season.

And this year, retail strategist Clementine Illanes says companies are paying greater attention to customer preferences.

"They are getting better at really understanding their customers.  So really mining data, looking at analyltics to be able to target their customers much more uniquely depending on what that specific customer is actually looking for," Ms. Illanes said.

Valuable old bones bring
arrest in smuggling case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Federal agents have charged a Florida man with smuggling a 70 million year-old dinosaur skeleton from Mongolia into the United States.

Prosecutors call suspect Eric Prokopi of Gainesville, Florida a one-man black market in prehistoric fossils.

Prokopi allegedly brought the dinosaur bones into the United States and reassembled them to form a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton. The skeleton sold at auction in May for more than $1 million.

Mongolia says Prokopi illegally dug up the bones and snuck them into the United States.

Prosecutors allege Prokopi also smuggled a second Mongolian dinosaur skeleton and one from China. He denies the charges. If convicted, Prokopi faces up to 35 years in prison.

Israeli desert farm pioneer
honored for drip irrigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A pioneer who made arid lands bloom is the recipient of this year's prestigious World Food Prize. The man, Daniel Hillel, developed drip irrigation techniques that squeeze the most crop out of a drop of water, making farming possible in places where water is scarce.

Hillel’s orchards near his home in Israel are innovation in action. Each tree row is fed by plastic tubes which drip water at the base of the tree.

Irrigating drop by drop, called drip irrigation, has transformed agriculture by dramatically reducing the amount of water needed. Farmers now rely on it in water-scarce regions from Spanish vineyards, to African onion fields, to America’s fruit and salad bowl.

“We in California grow about 50 percent of the fruits and vegetables of the continental United States," says University of California at Davis hydrologist Jan Hopmans. "And the reason that is possible is because of, indeed, these drip and micro-irrigation techniques.”

Hillel got his start in dry land farming as a pioneer in Israel’s Negev Desert in the 1950s.

"The issue was efficient use of water," he says, "because land is available. It’s extensive. Water is limited.”

These desert farmers did not have the luxury of running irrigation water through channels to their crops, the way farmers have since ancient times. So Hillel and others gave plants just what they needed, just where they needed it.
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Super gasoline to cost
$6.04 per U.S. gallon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's regulatory agency has approved an adjustment in the price of gasoline that will bring a gallon of super to $6.04. The increase is 30 colons a liter.

Plus gasoline, the lowest grade, is going up 30 colons to 748 colons for a per gallon cost of $5.75. Diesel was 636 colons a liter. The new price is 669 for a gallon price of $5.14

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said that the increases were based on the world price of petroleum and the exchange rate, which has not changed much. The agency used 500.13 colons to the U.S. dollar in its calculations.

There also were increases for liquid petroleum fuel, aviation gasoline and jet fuel.

The prices become effective when published in the La Gaceta official newspaper within three to five days, said the authority.

Petroleum is marketed by the state monopoly, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A.

Dixons level criticisms
on Michael's anniversary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dixon family is marking the third anniversary of Michael Dixon with a critical commentary on the official response.

The British and Costa Rican response to the incident has been bugged by incompetence and false hope from start to end, said the family in an emailed statement.

This is the case of the British tourist who vanished from his hotel in Tamarindo Oct. 18, 2009. There has been no sign, and the Dixons have argued persuasively that Michael did not drown while swimming, as investigators speculated.

The British Foreign Office did not tell the family that the hotel had reported him missing because "people choose to go missing all the time," the family said, adding that Michael's relatives only found out he was missing one week later when he did not show up to work.

Last year the Dixon family met Jeremy Browne, former British foreign minister for Central and South America, to seek his help in organizing a British police mission, the family noted. One year later and no progress has been made, they said.

The Dixons said that as they prepare for a fourth Christmas without Michael, British officials have now informed them that it does not know the name of the person responsible in Costa Rica to make it happen.

The Dixon tragedy is not an isolated one, the family said. Since 2009 there have been at least nine other European and U.S. citizens who have gone missing or been murdered in Costa Rica, they said. But the country is still depicted as a safe haven for tourism, they added.

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