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(506) 2223-1327              Published Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, in Vol. 9, No. 206         E-mail us
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Expats on fixed income have their eye on dollar
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats on fixed incomes are watching the dollar exchange rate nervously. Compared to the colon, the U.S. dollar has peeled off 2.5 percent of its value since Sept.23, according to figures provided by the Banco Central de Costa Rica.

The dollar was worth 584.01 colons on that date. The rate today is 569.82. The number of colons to buy dollars has maintained about a 10 colon spread.

For expats, the most important number is the amount of colons that comes out of the automatic teller in exchange for each dollar.

The big question is can the trend be characterized as seasonal or is a more prolonged slide likely. Costa Rican financial figures frequently attribute fluctuations in the dollar-colon exchange rate to the time of year. During the December-March high season, more dollars flow into the country from tourists, and the greater number of dollars produces a lower price against the colon, according to this line of reasoning.

That was the case in the 2007-2008 tourist season but not last year.

Another variable with a weaker dollar is how many tourists will travel this season.

There also is the settlement of international debts that almost always are done in dollars. For example, the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A. buys all of its products from foreign sources.

The good news is that a weaker dollar can ripple through the Costa Rican economy. The settlement prices for imported products, like gasoline, can be cheaper initially until suppliers catch up.

The dollar peeled off more than 12 colons since Tuesday, so many eyes will be following the market trend today.

For years, the colon was devalued slightly every working day. There was some expectation as to what the exchange rate would be weeks even months into the future.
weaker dollar


Not so now because the Banco Central has allowed a private market to develop for the sale and purchase of dollars. Although such transactions could only be done within a narrow range, now the central bank has pretty much opened up this wholesale market to speculation by widening the range. More than $8 million change hands on a typical day.

In the United States some political analysts believe that the Barack Obama administration is seeking a weak dollar to shore up the national economy. Cheaper dollars mean more exports. That is good for an economy reeling under higher unemployment and all the economic disasters of the last year.

For Costa Rica, which depends on the United States as a major trading partner, the weak dollar means that products here will be more expensive to Stateside purchasers.

Some investors are turning to gold, and the declining dollar certainly will be a benefit to the Las Cruicitas mine in northern Costa Rica if it ever begins operating. The government will be taking its share of any riches that come from the open pit.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 206

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New book is expat guide
to buying real estate here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chris Howard, the resident author and Costa Rican expert, has turned his talents to real estate. The result is a new book “Christopher Howard’s Guide to Real Estate in Costa Rica.”

"Purchasing real estate in Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart," said Howard, a 30-year resident. "Many have made money while others have lost their shirt. Realtors don’t need a
license to operate here, so potential buyers have to be very careful with whom they deal. It is sort of like the Wild West at times because of a lack of regulation and frontier mentality. However, with the correct information and guidance you can make a good purchase and find the home or property of your dreams."

Despite the current stresses in the real estate sector, Howard notes that the country was
Chris Howard book
voted on of the top five markets in the world in 2006.

Howard said that his 500-page book is carefully researched and took more than three years to write. Treated are subjects as technical as getting permits and as crucial as establishing value. Included is a section on how U.S., citizens can use the money in an investment retirement account to purchase property, Howard said in an announcement.

There also are lists of resources and contacts.

Howard had help producing the book. "Those who worked on and wrote the book aimed to provide an objective guide to buying real estate in Costa Rica," he said. "One writer is a professional journalist with years of experience at the top financial media company, Bloomberg.  The other writer has been a newspaper reporter and independent journalist. Neither of the writers are involved in selling real estate in Costa Rica. This guide is based on more than 100 interviews with experts in real estate across the country and from many different countries."

Howard knows the country. He has been running retirement/relocation tours for years and has seen most of the nation. During such tours real estate has been a prime topic. He also is the author of “The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica," which is in its 16th edition.

Howard also has written more than a dozen books about retirement in Costa Rica, in other Latin countries and about the Spanish language. He is a fluent Spanish speaker and holds a master's degree from the University of California.

Howard's "Guide to Real Estate" is available via his Web site or from Amazon.com. The book is $26.95.


Silver-colored coins going
to the scrap heap soon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Silver-colored coins are going out of circulation by Dec. 31, according to the Banco Central de Costa Rica.
These are the 5-, 10-, and 20-colon coins that are duplicated by a series of coins in brass of different sizes. Those  who have stashes of such coins can turn them in until Dec. 31 at various banks. They no longer will be issued as change even
out of date coins
by banks, said the central bank.

The coins are not worth much as metal. They are not silver but of a zinc mixture. They are not worth much, either. In most transactions, the odd colons are ignored. A 20-colon coin is worth only about 3.5 U.S. cents. The coin's best use was as a telephone token.

After the first of the year, the coins can be redeemed only at the Banco Central, the agency said. The bank announcement noted that the 20-colon coin was similar in diameter to the 500-colon Banco Central commemorative coin, and that this larger denomination coin will stay in circulation. It, too, is brass-colored. For awhile it was not considered a legal coin.

Once the transformation is complete, all of the coins in Costa Rica will be the same brass color.


Pair get stiff prison terms
in San Carlos armed robberies


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman robber got 55 years and a male companion received an 11-year sentence for a string of robberies in the San Carlos Area, said the Poder Judicial.

The pair faced allegations of aggravated robbery and holding individuals against their will in five separate cases. Due to the intricacies of the Costa Rican penal code, the women';s sentence automatically was reduced to 24 years, said the Poder Judicial.

The woman was identified by the last names of Real Macias and the man by the last names of Jarquin Reyes. They were convicted of a string of robberies beginning Aug. 28, 2008, said the Poder Judicial. They were accused of offering a ride to persons waiting for a bus and then forcing them to surrender their belongings, including bank debit cards which the pair later used.


Tango featured at Lion's benefit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Lion's Club in Playa del Coco is hosting the Sentimiento Criollo dance troupe tonight at 7 o'clock in the Bar y Restaurant Zi Lounge in that community. The group will give a Tango demonstration. The entrance for the club benefit is 3,000 colons.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 206

Animal welfare is one issue dividing presidencial candidates
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Accompanied by her dog Frankie, Marilú Arroyo of the Costa Rica Animal Shelter interviewed three major presidential candidates on their animal welfare positions.

Questions were culled from a long list of suggestions received via the shelter Web site  They ranged from what the candidate did after the Jan. 8 Cinchona earthquake (some volunteers rescued dogs) to serious issues of mistreatment and education.  The views of the politicians came from transcripts published on the Web page.

Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana visited the shelter in September. He defended his party’s and the government’s historical position on animal welfare as a priority lower than human concerns. Solís admitted being unfamiliar with legislation requiring each province to have an animal shelter and expressed agreement that since existing enforcement is aimed at farm animals and not pets, more could be done. When asked if he would support asking his followers to donate to spay/neuter programs, he bluntly said any fundraising would be for poor children.

The Movimiento Libertario's Otto Guevara received Ms. Arroyo and her dog at party headquarters. He described himself as a dog lover whose fiancée, Deborah Formal, has more than 20 dogs. Treatment of pets is part of the party’s platform among issues of wildlife and fisheries resources, he said.

Questions about government responsibility and education on animal welfare issues gave Guevara the opportunity to talk about his proposed changes to the structure of both the central government and school curriculum, which would be substantial. He said rather than request that party members donate to animal welfare, he would put a link to the Costa Rica Animal Shelter on the party’s Web site along with those of others for various organizations with specific social agendas.

Current frontrunner Laura Chinchilla of the incumbent Partido Liberación Nacional visited with Ms. Arroyo and Frankie at her house. Chinchilla made more flowery statements than the others, suggesting that animal welfare be something voters could take into consideration.

The phrasing of the relevant question was somewhat confusing, and since none of the candidates knew of the existing legislation requiring animal shelters, answers were inconsistent. Ms. Chinchilla thought animal mistreatment issues were a good area for municipal police forces, though only a few of the largest cities even have them. She suggested that the municipalities might find sponsors in the private sector to support concrete action like the construction of shelters and low-cost veterinary clinics.

Rather than make animal welfare another part of the school curriculum, Ms. Chinchilla said these matters were for the home. Conscience-raising as to the importance of “life in general, obviously cannot exclude animal life.” But “we can sit a kid down in the class and say nice things about animals, but if his father kicks the dog or his mother has it tied up for five days with nothing to eat, the child is not going to change.”

Ms. Chinchilla would be willing to ask her followers to donate to “this beautiful cause.” “Not just monetary, but with work and effort.”

politicians and dogs
Costa Rica Animal Shelter photos
Politicians Laura Chinchilla, Otto Guevara with Deborah Formal and Ottón Solís with Marilú Arroyo. Frankie is in all three photos.


As expected, Fishman will carry the banner for Unidad
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected, the national assembly of the Partido Social Cristiana has selected its leader as presidential candidate.

He is Luis Fishman, who got 111 votes to 38 won by  Bienvenido Venegas, a current legislative deputy for the party.

Fishman, who served as a vice president under Abel Pacheco, replaces Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the  former president who was convicted of taking an illegal bribe. 
Humberto Vargas, an engineer, will be first vicepresidential candidate, and Iris Zamora, a journalist, will be second vice presidential candidate.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana also named vice presidents over the weekend. 

Mónica Segnini Acosta, an Escazú businesswoman, will be first vice president.

Julio Humphreys, an administrator at Hospital Tony Facio in Limón, is the second vice presidential choice. The presidential candidate is Ottón Solís.


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The start of a Barrio Chino Saturday also brought out a number of the city's Chinese and non-Chinese residents as well as officials, including the president, who is shaking hands with Guo Jinlong
Arias and visiting mayor
Casa Presidencial photo


Barrio Chino plan to cover more than two acres downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Most major cities have one, so San José is moving forward with the creation of a Barrio Chino or Chinatown.
Traditionally such areas were ghettos where Chinese laborers were allowed to live with the services typical of their culture. This is where the clothes were washed in the 19th and early 20th century.

For San José, the concept is a form of urban renewal. The area will be 8,300 square meters (about two acres) with a public investment of at least $1 million. The section will be entered via Chinese-style gates, said Casa Presidencial.

The project was inaugurated Saturday by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, San José Mayor Johnny Araya, the visiting mayor of Beijing, Guo Jinlong, and the ambassador of the People's Republic here, Wang Xiaoyuan.
The area is between avenidas 2 and 14. The ceremony Saturday was in front of La Soledad church on calle 11.

The municipality plans to construct a pedestrian mall in place of the existing city street.  That will stretch for more than half a kilometer, officials said. Traffic will be restricted.

The project is to be an example of the profound admiration for the ancient civilization, said a Casa Presidencial release.

Officials envision businesses, restaurants, craft shops and places where traditional medicine is sold, said Arias.

Araya sees the project as another step in the repopulation and renewal of the central region of the city. Arias appears to have a more geopolitical view.


   
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 206

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Zelaya sets deadline today
to reach accord on crisis


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Deposed Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya has given the de facto government until today to consider his counter-proposal for ending the country's political crisis.

A representative of the ousted leader, Ricardo Martinez, said if no agreement is reached by then, the dialogue is broken. Zelaya's proposal would authorize the Honduran congress to decide whether to reinstate him.

The Zelaya camp rejected a proposal by interim President Roberto Micheletti calling for the supreme court to make the decision. The ousted leader's chief negotiator called the proposal "absurd."

Micheletti has been under intense international pressure to restore Zelaya, since he was removed from power in a June 28 coup. Zelaya's opponents say he was ousted because he was trying to illegally change the constitution to extend his term in office. The supreme court validated the ouster.

Earlier Zelaya said talks had broken down.

Speaking from the Brazilian Embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, where he has taken refuge, Zelaya told reporters the talks are suspended until the other side presents what he called a "reasonable" stance.

A member of Mr. Zelaya's negotiating team, Victor Meza, said the proposal offered by interim President Roberto Micheletti is "completely unacceptable."

More than three months into the political crisis, business leaders are starting to feel the pain. Owners say the dispute between Zelaya and the interim government is scaring off new investment and creating other problems.

"This is the Tegu Honduras factory," explains U.S. entrepreneur Chris Haughey. He has high hopes for his fledgling toy manufacturing company in Tegucigalpa.

"We have our woodworking machinery here. We are making wooden toys," Haughey says.

After doing social work with street children in Honduras, Haughey chose to locate his new business in the country. That was before Zelaya was removed from power.

Since then, protests in support of the ousted president and against him have shut down the capital several times. Zelaya, who has sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy, is demanding to be returned to office. In an effort to curb violence, the interim government has imposed curfews and other restrictions.

Many Hondurans have tried to return to their normal routines. Haughey said he has seen nothing so far to deter his toy manufacturing. But recent curfews have created some problems.

Under intense pressure, the interim government has backed away from the curfew. Haughey says many businesses view the interim government as more friendly than Zelaya's administration.

Zelaya's critics accuse him of eroding protections to business and pushing the country toward socialism. His supporters blame the interim government for launching a coup that is scaring away foreign investment.

In Miami, Honduran businessman Gerardo Padilla puts his losses at nearly a half million dollars in canceled contracts so far.

Padilla blamed both sides for the crisis affecting his company which makes and exports garbage trucks to Honduras. He says buyers are canceling purchases and other investments because of the uncertainty.

Padilla said it may take months to rebuild trust in the Honduran economy. In the meantime, many business leaders are likely to delay new investments until the crisis passes. Real estate developer Karen Bush hopes new elections scheduled for November will repair foreign confidence.

"We want to convince the international community to just accept our elections and allow us to continue and move to the next page," says Ms. Bush.

That may be a difficult task. The United States and other nations have warned they will not recognize the vote unless the political crisis is resolved.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 206


Latin American news
Hurricane Rick
U.S. National Hurrican Center and A.M. Costa Rica graphic
May shows Hurricane Rick south and west of the Baja

Rick remains dangerous storm
headed toward Baja California


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Rick became the strongest storm in the eastern north Pacific since Hurricane Linda in 1997.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm reached category-five proportions Sunday with sustained winds of 280 kph (174 mph) and higher gusts.

However, in its 9 p.m. summary, the center said that the strength of the storm had dropped off to a category four with winds at 230 kph (145 mph).

The storm is located more than 660 kilometers (410 miles) south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and is expected to remain offshore for several days.

Forecasters say Rick will remain an extremely dangerous hurricane for the next day or two, but is likely to weaken more as it approaches the Baja California Peninsula. Hurricane force winds extended out 60 miles from the  center, said the weather experts.

Hurricane Center forecasters say the storm could cause potentially dangerous surf conditions along Mexico's southwestern coast during the next few days.

Hurricane Rick is the seventh hurricane of this year's eastern north Pacific season.  The Baja has had a run of storms while the Atlantic activity has been far lower than predicted. The hurricane center data showed no potential storm conditions from South America to Africa early today.



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