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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 209
Jo Stuart
About us
Boston baseballers pull off a modern miracle
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tim Montgomery is from Boston, and he was crying.

He wept as he watched the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees to advance to the baseball World Series.

Montgomery, an expat teaching English in Costa Rica, spent the night bent over a bar in San José. He focused on every pitch as the Sox worked through the Yankee batting order.
The game was never in doubt. The Red Sox took an early lead and maintained it through nine innings. The final score was 10 to 3. 

The series has already been heralded as one of the greatest in Major League history. The Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit in the series, winning four games straight. That feat, had never been accomplished in North American baseball.

"This might be better then a World Series!" Montgomery uttered during the closing moments of the game. 

Alan Embree threw the last pitch of the game and suddenly a huge weight lifted off of Montgomery’s shoulders. "I just can’t believe it actually happened," he uttered as tears began to roll from his eyes.

In a nation where baseball takes a backseat to soccer, Montgomery and the other Gringos scattered around the bar took center stage as baseball history was made.

The Red Sox have not reached the World Series since 1986 and they haven’t won one since 1918. They will get their chance on Saturday when they face the winner of the National League finals, either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Houston Astros.

The long-time rivalry between the two teams dates back at least to the time when a greedy Red Sox owner sold a promising young pitcher to the Yankees. The player’s name? It was Babe Ruth.

Tax-free vehicle imports trigger probe of New York consulate 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreign ministry officials have launched an investigation of the Costa Rican consulate in New York City.

The action came after the Policía Fiscal filed a complaint with the Ministerio Público involving the importation of trucks, limousines and other vehicles that had not been subject to the appropriate import duties.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto outlined the situation in a release Wednesday afternoon. Roberto Tovar Faja, the minister, was quoted saying that a lawyer from the ministry had been dispatched to New York to secure documents used in the process of tax-free importations at the consulate.

Vehicles imported into Costa Rica usually pay 
a high duty, sometimes as much as 85 percent of the presumed value. However, some types of vehicles, such as those for public transport and certain leased pieces of construction equipment are not subject to the tax.

The person sent to New York was identified as Tatiana Quesada, who works in the legal department of the ministry. She left Wednesday.

The ministry said that the initial investigation is expected to be finished by Saturday. Coincidentally, Tovar himself is in New York, according to ministry reports. He is supposed to take part in a United Nations meeting today that relates to Costa Rica’s proposed ban on human cloning.

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Depictions of women
subject to censorship

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government is about to issue regulations to control depictions of women in advertising. The goal is to eliminate denigration of women in such publicity, according to a statement from the ministry involved.

The effort to censor advertising in mainstream publications, in television, on the radio and in movies comes from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and the Oficina de Control de Propaganda.

Roxana Blanco, director of the propaganda office, and Miguel Ángel Quesada Niño, vice minister of Gobernación, will outline the proposal today.

The word propaganda does not carry the negative connotations in Spanish as it does in English. Here it simply means advertising.

The propaganda control office has been active in closing down magazines that depict unclothed women.

Man kills companion
then hangs himself

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man in Laurel de Corredores in southwestern Costa Rica fatally stabbed his female companion and then hung himself, according to investigators.

The man was identified by the Judicial Investigating Organization as Huo Wei Wang  and the woman was Kattia Rivas Brenes.

The dead woman was the mother of two children, 8 and 10. She worked as a waitress in restaurants in the area, including a Chinese restaurant where Wang was a cook, Fuerza Pública officers said.

A Laurel police official, Comandante Renán Valverde, said that the woman sought protection from Wang in May, and he was ordered to move from the home they shared. However, police said the man merely moved into a shed adjacent to the home.

Relatives said the couple were reconciled and that Wang moved back into the house a month ago.

Rodríguez appeal
will take a few days

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge can take up to five working days to decide appeals such as the one brought to put former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría in jail instead of home detention.

The appeal was filed Tuesday by the prosecutor of Delitos Económicos y Anticorrupción, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

Rodríguez was ordered into house arrest Saturday by a judge who got the case at random.  His comfortable setting had irked Costa Ricans who blame him for massive financial corruption.

Although Rodríguez returned voluntarily to Costa Rica, the prosecutor based his appeal partly on the possibility that the former president would be a flight risk. The prosecutor also said that outside of jail Rodríguez might obstruct the investigation.

There also is the possibility of a court hearing, but, if held it will be private.

More woodlands seen
for Latin America

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

By the end of the next decade, Latin America and the Caribbean will have less natural forest cover, but more woodland areas will be protected and more trees planted, according to projections released Wednesday in San José by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Those developments should result in an increased share of international trade in forest products by 2020, say the FAO forecasts, which are being presented this week to the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission here.

"The challenges and opportunities of the expected changes call for greater participation of communities and local government in forest management, better property rights regulations, improved intra-regional trade and development of systems for a better flow of information," Merilio Morell, an FAO forestry expert, said at the meeting.

The study says natural forest cover is expected to continue shrinking, down to 887 million hectares by 2020 from 964 million hectares in 2002.

Meanwhile, planted forests are expected to grow to over 16 million hectares from 12 million, and protected areas are also likely to expand. Between 1950 and 2003, protected areas increased to 397 million hectares from 17.5 million hectares, reaching 19 per cent of the region's total area and 23 per cent of the world's protected areas.

FAO says that with appropriate means it is possible to turn back deforestation. "With proper mechanisms to finance sustainable forest management, it will be possible to reverse the deforestation trend and conserve forest ecosystems," Morell said. "Latin America and the Caribbean are at the forefront of implementing such innovative financial mechanisms."

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Oh NO! Not another bank story!
By Jay Brofdell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans really love their paperwork. That’s why I had to end up putting a legal ad in the official newspaper, La Gaceta, just to get a Banco Nacional debit card.

The story is a complex one and adheres to Murphy’s law. The tale also is relevant for expats living here, particularly those with active corporations.

Mistake No. 1 was not getting a debit card when I opened the corporate bank accounts for A.M. Costa Rica three years ago. Actually I didn’t really want plastic cards. That’s something extra to lose. But I wanted to access the corporate accounts on the Internet.

To do that, Banco Nacional, a government entity, requires the account holder to have a Servibanca card.

Remember when Migración y Extranjería was withholding reissuance of residency cédulas? Well, they would not give me mine until the Sala IV told them to do so.

Therefore, some six months ago, I gathered my papers to obtain a debit card, I brought my passport instead of the residency cédula that immigration had embargoed.

Now Ticos never change their passport number. U.S. citizens get a new passport and a new number every 10 years. This is a difficult concept for Banco Nacional employees to grasp.

The manager of a corporation usually has to present along with other papers a personaría juridica. This document, signed and sealed by a notary, simply repeats what is already in the public record. The individual really does have the power to act for XYZ S.A.

Never mind that the same information now is available online from the Régistro Nacional.

An eagle-eyed bank customer service (I use the term loosely) representative spotted that the passport identification number in the personaría juridica was not the same as the number in the brand new U.S.-issued passport. He eyed me suspiciously. 

"Who was this guy who wanted to take his own money out of the bank electronically?"

A huddle ensued in a manager’s office. Someone placed a hurried telephone call to the bank’s legal department.

The result: No debit card until the personaría juridica contains the number of the new passport. Never mind that I had in hand the canceled old passport. Similar photos of an aging Gringo, too. 

Back to the lawyer. "Well, we will have to change the documents in the Régistro," says he. Then he would be able to swear that the new personaría

juridica matched exactly what was in the public record. 

Which, of course, is available online.

Unlike the county clerk’s office in most U.S. courthouses, Régistro workers here study each submitted document meticulously, searching for the tiniest flaw.

One such flaw would be someone trying to impersonate a Gringo with a different passport number.

"We have to tell the world that the passport number is changed," decreed the Régistro workers. The Gringo needed to place a legal ad in La Gaceta saying that he still was the same guy even though his passport number was different. 

Had another Régistro employee been placed in charge of the documents, I might have had to walk through downtown San José wearing a sandwich board. They seem to make up the rules as they go. Dancing with the Régistro cost three months.

Legal advertising + new personaría juridica + nice lady at the bank = a Servibanca debit card.

Except the next day the corporation cédula number would not work on the Internet banking page. The number is the wrong length, said the machine without further information.

Maybe the card needs to be activated in an ATM machine? So I take the card to the main Banco Nacional office and try to access the account. But the four numbers that make up the numerical password are very faint. I tried 3459 once. Then I tried 3453. A bank employee assigned to the area came over to help the uneducated Gringo. It’s a zero," he declared of the final digit.

So I punch in 3450, and slurrrrrp, the machine eats the card. "You are stupid and you have screwed up the password three times, so now you must go to our customer service department to get your card back," or similar, said the slip from the machine.

Up to Customer Service. There a nice lady explained that for reasons known only to those who programmed the bank’s computer, one had to add two zeros to the end of a corporation’s cédula juridica number in order to use online banking. And my card? "You can have it back tomorrow. Just bring that slip from the machine."

"Oh, and the last digit is a 6."

Three days pass. Back at the bank. "Do you have your personaría juridica," asks the nice lady in the customer service desk. Of course, I did not. I only had all the paperwork associated with the debit card, including the envelope with the faint code.

After I demanded to see the manager, I finally got back the corporation credit card. "Let’s get rid of this Gringo."

Then it was time for fun trying to open an online banking account. Unlike most Internet services, Banco Nacional has strict rules for online passwords. They only are valid for 120 days, and you cannot use vowels. And a password must contain letters and numbers. The computer program is stern about that.

Goodbye to the chance of having a pronounceable password. So after I punched in bncrscks2 as my password, the computers finally let me enter my account.

But only for five minutes. The system is set up to cut off a user at the end of five minutes. 

At least I don’t have to stand in line.

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A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica. However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system. 

World Bank to donate some of its computers here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Students in Costa Rica and a number of other Latin American countries will benefit from the launch of a World Bank program to donate computers to a global network of community organizations.

The World Bank said that 12,000 computers will be donated to community groups around the world, which will then pass the technology on to needy children. In addition to Costa Rica, Latin American countries slated to receive computers include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, according to an official at the charitable organization called "Gifts in Kind International," the World Bank's partner in the program.

The official from Gifts in Kind, which is based in Alexandria, Virginia, said the local World Bank office in each country will distribute the computers to non-governmental organizations, and to community and nonprofit groups that are primarily involved in the areas of health care, education, social services and job training. Part of the role of Gifts in Kind in the program, said the official, is 

receiving and forwarding applications for the computers.

The World Bank said the donated computers, which are being replaced in more than 100 bank country offices, are in excellent working condition.

The bank said that each of the donated computers will be loaded with new software by the nonprofit group "Teachers Without Borders." In addition, the non-governmental organization World Links will receive computers for use in its worldwide educational programs.

The World Bank program was launched in early October when more than 1,000 computers were donated to area community groups. The donated computers will be used to help develop educational plans for children by assisting with reading, mathematics and spelling skills.

Viki Betancourt, manager of Community Outreach at the World Bank, said the bank is "happy to donate these computers to community organizations" that "will use them to provide individuals with better opportunities to thrive and do well," adding: "These computers have many good years ahead of them."

Readers comment on fuel situation and other items
The problem 
with highways

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Costa Rica’s problem is simple: they have one major highway through the country going north-south and essentially only one major highway going east-west.  Both climb from sea level up and over the major mountains in the center and back down to sea level again. 

Both are only two lanes wide, for the most part, and only a modest effort has been put forth in recent years to consider climbing lanes.  All of the truck traffic in Costa Rica uses those two highways at some point or another.  Both highways intersect in San José, so that virtually every bit of highway traffic crossing Costa Rica in either direction has to go through San José at some point or another.

You see the problem?

The other thing is that Costa Rica is a poor country which hasn’t decided it has the money for transportation systems.  We have two major ports, one on the Caribbean and the other on the Pacific.  Nearly everything goes by truck.  On north-south highway, Golfito, to the south, is still the only duty-free port.  Everything from there comes on the north-south highway, over the highest part of the mid-country mountains on a twisty two-lane road that is almost primitive.  There are NO passing lanes, you can count on the trip taking hours and hours behind trucks all the way.  This is also the PanAmerican (oops, InterAmerican) Highway, supposedly running from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, which should be the national pride.

You see the problem?

Most of Costa Rica’s highways and bridges and San Jose’s streets were built when cars were few, and tiny, and people still rode horses and oxen pulled wagons.  The roads have no shoulders, most of the rural bridges are only one-lane to save money.  They work fine, for the most part, until you add trucks and busses to the mix…but the country cannot function without trucks and busses. 

For the major part, since there is no shoulder on the roads the buses stop right in the middle of the single lane of traffic.  Since it is impossible to pass in most places, so does all of the traffic in the country.  Trucks seem to follow any rule they like, but they definitely never pull over to allow backed-up traffic to pass them…and, without shoulders, probably couldn’t even if they would.

You see the problem?

What’s the solution?  One is more money.  Having no functioning railroads at all is simply ridiculous in a country so centralized with essentially only two major ports and one major city to connect.  Build them.  Make the two major highways 4-lane everywhere, but in the meantime make them 3-lane everywhere so that there is a climbing lane 100 percent of the way.  (Oh, yeah…repair the lanes that have been washed out for what, eight years now?) 

Immediately pursue better, less mountainous routes wherever possible.  Buy one piece of heavy earth-moving equipment so roads do not have to cling to every contour…learn cut-and-fill highway construction.  Complete the ring route around San Jose, only eliminate the stupid traffic circles and put in real cloverleafs.  Yes, it will be a really big problem while this construction is taking place.  It won’t get any better by waiting until there is more traffic to be disrupted.

You can’t take the buses away from normal work hours, but staggering work hours is not a bad attempt at a solution. Still, it can go only so far.  But you CAN take the trucks out of the mix.  Ban truck deliveries from the city during normal work hours, they’ll simply have to work at night.  That’s true of some businesses and services, anyhow, add trucks to the list.

In the city, take parking off of the streets.  Yes, you’ll have to build some vertical parking structures, there isn’t enough flat ground left to hold everyone, sorry.  It is ridiculous that a city the size of San Jose does not have even one significant highrise parking structure.  Take most traffic off of the central city streets.  People who can afford to drive cars can afford to park them on the outskirts and take taxis.  Make more pedestrian-traffic-only walking malls like Avenida Central.  Costa Ricans are used to walking everywhere, anyhow, and it’s healthful if they don’t want to turn into a nation of fat North Americans.

I said that’s one, so what’s the second?  Develop the political backbone to really demand these solutions, even if the general public doesn’t seem to yet understand what needs to be done and what it will cost.  Sorry about that, but that’s life.  There are adults and there are children, and children always seek the easiest route.  We have to start electing adults who will do the tough things even when they aren’t always palatable.

Look at the good side.  Doing this work will generate millions of jobs all over the country.  When you spend money on infrastructure that money does not disappear as a simple expense, it’s an investment.  It’s not only time to start investing because it is a good idea, it is now a necessity.  Planning ahead would have made life easier now, but no sense looking back at what wasn’t done.  Time to stop planning and start doing.

Gregg Calkins 
La Fortuna de San Carlos
Why are fuel purchases
business of government?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Here I go again:  I just had to add to my many articles regarding Costa Rica’s idiotic government and its absolute inability to grasp the simple concept of "good government".  Now that fellow masquerading as a president wants to install some legislation that is supposed to save $5 to 10 million in fuel costs for the Ticos. 

I could go on with my usual list of pejoratives but it will suffice to ask the simple question: What business is it of the Costa Rican government how much fuel the Tico’s use? 

I was under the impression that the Costa Ricans were a free people (laugh) living under a democratic government. This latest government intrusion is so anti-economic freedom that only the much-used statement describing Costa Rica as the Switzerland of Central America is more absurd. 

We have been reading about all of the corruption that has been going on in Costa Rica. I almost split a gut laughing when all of the news outlets acted like they were surprised. Just last month a University of Costa Rica poll (before the corruption scandals) reported that 78% of the Ticos considered the government to be corrupt from top to bottom.  Duh!  As a matter of fact there has never been a poll conducted in Costa Rica where a majority of those polled (Ticos) did not want to get rid of this "so called" democracy. 

As for all of those fuel savings; there is no shortage of fuel. The market is the market, when the price gets too high people, on the own initiative, will stop buying it.

 Now comes Ms. Erin Van Rheenen with her article of Tuesday past:  She says that Costa Rica is a viable destination for unsatisfied Gringos to retire to.  Ms. Rheenen simply must stop smoking whatever it is she smokes.  Yes, leave the U.S. and come to a corrupt "Banana Republic" where the predominate cottage industry is ripping off foreigners. 

I am talking about that nice little "pacifist" country where you would not dare live in a house without bars on the window, gates, and wire all around.  A place where the "Rule of Law" is no more than a question in a Trivial Pursuits game.  A place where the total IQ of the current administration when added to the IQ of the legislative assembly does not exceed a comfortable room temperature. 

A country in which the government does not even protect property rights (different laws in different courts). A country where there is a Tico price and a Gringo price. 

I have spent the better part of 18 years in Costa Rica.  The difference between me and Ms. Rheenen is that early on I recovered from any delusion about Costa Rica. 

Nicholas C. Allen 
Evergreen, Colorado

Corruption scandals here
getting good news play

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s corruption investigations are getting wide coverage in the United States. The prestigious Los Angeles Times outlined the situation here in a front page article today.

The Washington Times carried an Agence France-Presse story.

The Los Angeles newspaper reported on the arrest and home detention of Miguel Angel Rodríguez Echeverría. Then it said: "His resignation and arrest were the latest blows to this country's reputation as an island of clean politics and low crime in Latin America."

Reporter Chris Kraul also said that rising violent crime also has contributed to change in the nation’s image.

"Once an oasis among corrupt Latin American countries, Costa Rica finds itself swamped in scandals reaching to Taiwan, France and the Organization of American States in Washington.," said the Washington Times.

The time has come for more stories of spooks and banshees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the local political and financial news are not scary enough for you, we invite you again this year to submit your efforts to our annual Halloween short story contest.

Once again the prize will be $25 and worldwide recognition though the pages of A.M. Costa Rica. After all, we are read in 89 countries each day.

The stories must have a theme that is consistent with Halloween: Spooks, witches, goblins, ghosts. 

By submitting a story to you are certifying that the story was written by you, that it is original and unpublished and that we may publish it. We will. Graphics are welcomed but will not be part of the evaluation. Deadline is Oct. 25 at midnight, of course.

Judging will be by the strange figure that inhabits the A.M. Costa Rica offices after hours. We’ll just leave the computer on for its decision.

Try to keep the stories around, 1,000 words or less and make sure that there is a connection with Costa Rica.

Jo Stuart
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