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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 208       E-mail us
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Fast cash means incredible returns for lender
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Is the credit crunch putting a crimp in your lifestyle? Help can be found on most any electric pole in San José and surroundings.

Many independent lenders advertise in this fashion, usually with a photocopied sheet glued to the cement pole or a phone switching box. It is traditional to pull down the fliers of any competing services, and the effect of rain on the untreated paper makes the signs deteriorate rapidly. Still, the phone number and minimum requirements are generally legible.

A quick perusal of the working-class Santa Rosa neighborhood in Santo Domingo de Heredia gave a range of options. All are little more than the fliers saying préstamos or loans, with a cell phone number. Several were chosen at random for consideration.

A representative of each was consulted by a native Spanish speaker. For a loan of 250,000 colons (about $450), the quote on a three-year term was 18,700 colons per month for three years. The interest rate was not revealed, but the borrower would pay 423,200 colons in just interest. Or one can pay in one year, at 34,250 colons per month. That means an interest rate of 129 percent with the borrower paying 161,000 colons in interest alone.

It pays to shop around. On the next pole was a similar flyer. The person on the other end of the line could offer 250,000 colons with monthly payments of 18,000 colons over three years. A borrower would pay 398,000 colons in interest. Over two years the payment is 22,000 colons, or total interest of 278,000 colons. 

One prestamista with a professional-looking two-color flier did not answer the phone. Maybe the extra overhead for publicity was too much to stay in business.

The usual restrictions apply. Lenders will want your cédula number to check your employment history. A utility bill in your name will establish residency. Some might like you to get someone to co-sign, but others explicitly state that is not necessary. Recent reforms to Costa Rica’s civil court system mean debt collection has been streamlined. With no collateral involved in this
posted sign
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
 Money in an hour without a cosigner,  
 according  to this sign on a utility pole in  
 Heredia.


type of contract, the most collectors could do is embargo that part of your salary in excess of the minimum wage.

Both of the agents consulted said they were based in Pavas, a poor suburb on the west side of San José. But there is no need to travel to make arrangements. Their messenger can bring the paperwork and pick up the monthly payments at a location convenient for the client. None of the lenders were willing to be quoted by name or photographed for this story.

Article 236 of the Costa Rican penal code vaguely describes usury as “taking advantage of the need, rashness, or the inexperience of a person, [to] have him give or promise a financial return obviously disproportionate to the amount invested, or [to] demand as a guarantee extortive requirements.” 

Anyone who “knowingly takes out a usurious loan or credit” is subject to the same penalty, six months to two years in prison or a fine of 80 days of the base wage salary.

The penalty for a sort of aggravated usury, the result of not keeping proper accounting records, can be punished by nine months to three years, or a fine of 100 days salary. Fines in Costa Rica are often based on the minimum wage, to allow adjustment for inflation. The current minimum for most manual occupations is 6,685 colons, or about $12 per day.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 208

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Many victims of flooding
returning to their homes


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Central Pacific residents who were evicted temporarily by floods have returned to their homes, but some Guanacaste residents and some individuals in the southern canton of Corredores were still in government shelters.

The national emergency commission said that residents of Parrita and Quepos had returned to their homes by Saturday afternoon. They were victims of five days of heavy rains and low pressure that brought rivers well above flood stage and provoked tides as much as six feet above normal.

In all, some 474 communities and more than 17,000 persons were affected directly by the flooding, according to estimates from the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y  Atención de Emergencias. A commission report said that nearly 90,000 persons were indirectly affected.

Officials will continue to total the damage today. So far 153 stretches of road, 25 bridges and 21 schools are reported to have been damaged. There were 1,219 homes damaged or destroyed and 424 water wells polluted by the rains, the commisison said.

There were 81 landslides big enough to receive official notice.

Even though sunny weather returned Friday and pretty well lasted over most of the weekend, the commission is continuing its alert for Parrita, Aguirre and Garabito on the central Pacific, Desamparados, León Coertés, Dota and Tarrazú in the Provincia de San José, four cantons in the Provincia de Cartago, all the cantones of Guanacaste, Siquirres in the Provincia de Limón and Upala in the northern zone.

Roughly half of the nearly 60 storm shelters had been closed by Sunday afternoon.

Shelters still were open in Bagaces with 174 persons, Carrillo on the west shore of the Nicoya Peninsula with 336 persons, La Cruz in extreme northwest Costa Rica with 569 persons, Santa Cruz with 455 persons. Sámara and Nosara with 11 persons between them, Nadayure with 67 persons, Abangares with 40 persons and Cañas with 265 storm refugees. In Corredores some 140 persons were in shelters, the commission said.

In addition to evaluating the damage, the commisison is contracting and providing machinery to clean the mud that was deposited in public streets and helping people with cleaning their homes so they can return to a normal life.

The nation probably has eight weeks left of rainy season. The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30. So the chance of another heavy series of storms still is high. The U.S. National Hurricane Center did not show any developing storms in the Atlantic as of early today.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional is predicting typical weather for today. That means partly cloudy morning skies followed by isolated showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon, Also expected are evening showers in the southern Pacific coast.

Less than half an inch of rain fell in San José over Saturday and Sunday, according to the institute's automatic station in Barrio Aranjuez.

Two car bandit suspects
end up in police hands


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Publica officers followed the trail of a stolen car from San Jorge to San Francisco in Heredia Sunday, and managed to capture two suspects. A third man escaped, officials said.
Detained were individuals identified by the last names and ages of Chavarría Artavia, 19, and Hernández Hernández, 20.

Police said they received a call reporting that three men had robbed a NIssan Sentra from a driver in San Jorge.  A patrol spotted the stolen car near the sports palace in San Francisco, and officers moved in.

When the car bandits saw police they fled so quickly that they collided with a motorcycle and still continued their flight. When police finally captured the suspects they said they found a pistol in the car.

Ex-U.S. embassy employee
named to security post


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Marcela Chacón Castro, a lawyer who worked with the U.S. Embassy, is being named a vice minister of security. She will take over in November the spot that had been held by Rafael Gutiérrez, who quit in April.

Janina del Vecchio, the security minister, said that Ms. Chacón would be involved in working with various programs of social prevention of crime, family violence, trafficking in persons and control of casinos. She also will coordinate the social and labor sections of the Fuerza Pública in areas such as housing, salaries and incentives, said the minister.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 208

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Speedy justice program gets a robber off the streets quickly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An armed robber got 40 months in prison Friday night under the government's speedy trial program.

He is the second person to go to jail under the plan, but the first person got just eight months.

The man was identified by the last names of Durán Hernández. The Poder Judicial said that he was one of two men who robbed a young man at 7:20 p.m. in San Pedro in front of a bus load of passengers.

The Poder Judicial said that the victim, identified by the last name of Aguilar, was at a bus stop Oct. 3.

After the bus arrived and he was entering the Cartago-bound vehicle, the man later identified as Durán pulled a 16-cm knife (about six inches) and proceeded to threaten the young man and rifled his pockets. Stolen was a cell telephone.
The robbery happened at the bus stop in front of the Outlet Mall in San Pedro and across the street from the Roman Catholic church there. The crime was aggravated robbery because a weapon was used.

Duran and his partner fled the scene, according to the Poder Judicial, but he was grabbed by the Fuerza Pública a short distance away carrying the knife and the cell phone, the Poder Judicial said.

The case was handled in the Tribunal de Juicio de Delitos en Flagrancia, which is set up to quickly try and convict those caught red-handed. Most of the criminals who have appeared there since the program went into effect in Oct. have gotten conditional release, basically probation.

The Poder Judicial released the results of the Friday evening decision in an unusual Saturday bulletin. The summary made clear that Durán went straight to San Sebastian correctional reception center and did not receive any conditional release.


Tiny gymnasts look for an angel to put club on firm footing
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

Somersaulting, twisting and leaping may come easily to the award-winning SalsaStars, a junior gymnastics club based in Jacó, but it sure doesn't come cheaply.

Coach Wendy Castellanos, who recently led the young gymnasts to two national level competitions, used $20,000 of her life savings in order to buy the balancing beams, mats and trampolines which the 22 members of the junior club uses for practice. She said she also pays for the scholarships for two low-income Costa Rican and two Nicaraguan boys who otherwise would be unable to afford the $125 monthly tuition and $50 uniforms.

“We need sponsors,” she said, adding that she hopes to register at least 100 students to the gymnastics program in February. “We're hoping that as the community sees the results we're getting through competition, more people will come out of the woodwork and sign up.”

Ms. Castellanos, a Texas native who has been coaching gymnastics for 24 years, moved to Costa Rica in 2004, and has been running the SalsaStars gymnastic club for nearly two years. So far, the pint-sized gymnasts – whose ages range from 4 to 15 – have been bringing home big results.

At a nationwide, entry-level student championship in Turrialba Sept. 27, which saw 240 gymnasts compete from 94 schools, five of the eight SalsaStars who competed won first or second place in their divisions. The Jacó team also won a trophy for overall outstanding performance in the youngest age division, age 4.

The next weekend, three of the youngest SalsaStars brought home top honors at the seventh annual interclub tournament at Líder Gym in Curridabat against more than 300 gymnasts from 11 clubs.

However, with an approximate $40 price tag per gymnast for each competition – including food, transportation and hotel fees – Ms. Castellanos said it will be tough to include even more low-income kids in the Jacó program, whom she believes have the most to gain from practicing a rigorous sport.

“The children here are exposed to drug dealers and prostitution on every street corner, constantly,” she said.
Young gymnasts
Taylor  Barger, 4, Amorette Castellanos, 4, and Olivia Barger, 5, stand with their coach after competing at the Interclub Tournament at Líder Gym, Curridabat, Oct. 3.

“They have a great need for a sport that's highly structured and highly disciplined and gives them goals to follow for over the next 10 years. They don't have to kick rocks around the street and smoke pot.”

Partly due to a lack of scholarship money, Gringos outnumber Ticos within the SalsaStars: Ms. Castellanos says 80 percent of the 15 children enrolled have one or more American parents. The program has tried to budget funds by not purchasing certain pieces of equipment, such as a full-sized competition balance beam and vaulting table, both of which cost between $4,000 and $6,000. Some things, however, such as staying in affordable hostels during competitions, remain a necessity.

“They all get carsick on the bus,” said Ms. Castellanos.  “So it's not like we can get there the minute before the competition and expect everyone to do well. We have to get there the night before.”

Even though the SalsaStars rank as level one, or entry-level, gymnasts, they still received a special invitation to compete in the National Championship of Artistic Gymnastics this weekend where the lowest division is level three. They will compete again Nov. 15 at a nationwide student competition at the Colegio Humboldt, and then again in the Copa Marbella, an open competition in Panamá from Nov. 21 to 24.


Constitutional court declines to block $73 million stadium
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ruled that a new, $73 million soccer stadium could be built in Parque La Sabana. The decision announced Friday rejected an appeal by nine citizens who opposed the plans.

Both President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, said they were satisfied with the court's speedy decision.

“It's good news for sports fans and for millions of Costa Ricans who will be extremely happy with the court's ruling
that the national stadium can be built in the same place where we've had it since the 1920s,” said President Arias in a press release.
Opponents of the stadium, including Guido Saénz, the former minister of Cultura, asked the Sala IV to delay construction plans because they said the larger stadium would cause transportation problems around the park.

Oct. 7, the Court ordered that construction, set to begin on Nov. 1, be delayed until the appeal was resolved

Now, it's full speed ahead for the 35,000 capacity stadium, which is being funded by the People's Republic of China.

“Costa Rica will have in La Sabana one of the most modern stadiums in Latin America,” said Minister Arias, adding:

“It's a victory for an immense majority of citizens who came together in defense of a marvelous stadium.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 208


Five nations will join Costa Rica on U.N. Security Council
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda have won non-permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. They will serve two-year terms beginning in January.  They join Costa Rica, which won a non-permanent seat last year.

The vote, which takes place by secret ballot in the U.N. General Assembly, saw seven countries officially competing for the five open seats. All 192-member states participated. Candidates needed a two-thirds majority or 128 votes to secure a seat.

The most hotly contested seats were for Western Europe. Austria and Turkey beat out Iceland for the two seats allocated to this region.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said the strong support Turkey received showed the international community's confidence in Turkey, which is currently in negotiations to join the European Union. He said Turkey would continue to work to contribute to international peace and security in its new role.

"Our key works will be dialogue, diplomacy, peaceful solution to conflicts," he said. 

This will be Turkey's fourth time sitting on the council. Austria has served on the council twice before. This year was Iceland's first attempt to become a member. Some diplomats said privately that Iceland's bid was probably hurt by the recent collapse of its financial sector. 

For the Asian seat, Japan roundly defeated Iran. Japan received 158 votes, Iran only 32.

"I would like to highlight how fitting it is that Iran only secured 32 votes," said British Ambassador John Sawers. "Iran is a subject on the agenda of the Security Council. There are sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program and its comprehensive defeat — a thrashing of Iran — is a
very important signal of whole membership's concern about Iran's actions."

Japan is a regional power and the second largest donor to the United Nations. It hopes to become a permanent member of the Security Council if that body is reformed and expanded.

The seats for Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean were uncontested.

Uganda's ambassador, Francis Butagira, said his country hopes to become a bridge between big powers and smaller nations in reaching compromise. Uganda has been a contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions in Darfur and Somalia and Butagira said African issues would be high on Uganda's agenda.

"Since most conflicts are on the African continent, we hope to play a very active role toward resolution of those conflicts and maintenance of international peace and security," he said.

Mexico, which has served three previous terms on the council, was unopposed in its bid for the Latin America and Caribbean seat. 

Nominations are not required. Countries simply announce their intention to run, sometimes many years in advance. Consideration is given to an equitable geographical distribution and a candidate's contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security.

There are 15 seats on the council. Five are permanent veto-wielding members: China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States. Currently, beside Costa Rica the other four non-permanent members are Burkina Faso, Croatia, Libya and Vietnam. The five newly elected members will replace Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panamá and South Africa, whose two-year terms conclude at the end of this year. 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 208




A.M. Costa Rica

users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

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.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

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A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us


Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.


Norte Valle drug leader
admits his guilt in U.S.


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Colombian drug lord on trial in the United States pleaded guilty Friday to racketeering charges.

The U.S. Justice Department says Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamente, also known as "Rasguno," admitted he was a leader of the Norte Valle cartel.

U.S. authorities accuse the group of engaging in drug trafficking, money laundering, bribery, murder, and working with a terrorist organization.

At the U.S. District Court in Washington, Gómez also pleaded guilty to conspiring to make or distribute more than 10,000 kilograms of cocaine to be imported into the United States.

U.S. authorities say the Norte Valle drug ring has trafficked more than $10 billion worth of cocaine, some 500,000 kilograms, into the country since 1990.

They say the cartel relied on a U.S.-designated terrorist group, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, for protection.

Gómez already faces a minimum 10-year prison sentence for separate drug-trafficking offenses. He pleaded guilty to those charges in June at a federal court in New York.

Gómez was arrested in Cuba in 2004 after two years as a fugitive. In 2007, he was deported to Colombia and extradited to the United States.


Monetary fund chief
facing employee scandal


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Monetary Fund is investigating allegations that its chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had an improper relationship with a female employee.

Fund lawyers have opened an independent probe into the charges, first reported Saturday by The Wall Street Journal.

The probe will look into whether Strauss-Khan abused his power as managing director by showing favoritism to Piroska Nagy — an official who has since left the fund.

Strauss-Kahn is a former French finance minister. He denies ever abusing his position at the fund, and says he is cooperating with investigators.

A report on the case is expected by the end of the month.

Last year, Paul Wolfowitz resigned from his position as World Bank president after authorities found he had arranged a promotion and generous pay package for his bank employee girlfriend.


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