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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 211       E-mail us
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Forbes showcases property problems in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Real estate here took another hit this week as Forbes, the U.S. publisher of authoritative business magazines, posted an account of Costa Rican property ownership problems.

The thrust of the article by author Jesse Bogan is captured by the headline "Costa Rica is a retirement heaven — unless some squatters steal your land." The article contains individual accounts of landowners plagued by squatters or who are victims of registry fraud.

The article is available online, but it is unclear if it will be carried in one of the Forbes printed publications.

The article is nothing new to readers of A.M. Costa Rica, which has covered the perils of property ownership for years, but the author did provide a broad view. The article is sure to have influence with persons who might be thinking of purchasing property in Costa Rica.

For example, the article says of Costa Rica:

"It may be a great place to visit, but as a retirement
spot? Think hard — particularly as an absentee landlord. The agrarian law says that squatters can't be booted off unoccupied land without a court order. Moreover, if they stick around for a year they get the right to stay indefinitely, if no one evicts them, and after ten years of such de facto possession they can file for title on the land."

The author notes that many persons who are victims of squatters end up fighting lengthy and expensive court battles. One example is the Standard Fruit Co., which he said spent $5 million to keep ownership of a tract worth about $10 million after squatters invaded. This is the long-running battle between owners and squatters at Finca Bambuzal near Sarapiquí

He also cites the case of prominent businessman Armando González Fonseca, a Citibank Costa Rica board member, who just purchased the possession rights of a long-time squatter in Playa Herradura. The expat owners of the property involved have been fighting for years to regain control.

Bogan also recounts violence related to hostile possession, including the case of Max Dalton, who died in a shootout during a confrontation with squatters near Pavones.


Threat of power blackouts countered by employers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

First it was the lack of water behind dams at generation sites, and now the country's major electrical generator says that the high price of diesel will require it to impose planned blackouts next year.

But the chamber that represents employers is unimpressed. The chamber wants more private hydro generating projects and also noted that the price of petroleum tumbled.

The Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad is warning that it will have to institute rolling blackouts during the dry season. The warnings come at the same time that the government entity is seeking major rate hikes. The institute blames lack of money to purchase sufficient diesel fuel for backup power plants.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado disputes the reasoning behind the warnings and said that it has complained for years about weaknesses in the distribution system. The chamber also said it has urged the executive branch to do what it can to get the legislature to pass a bill that provides for more concessions for the private production of electricity.
Approval of the measure will reduce the impact of petroleum prices on the rates electrical users pay. The chamber said it was concerned about the inflationary results of higher electrical rates which would be translated into demands for higher salaries by employees.

It was in the first half of 2007 when low water levels cause the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad to impose blackouts by regions.
Officials said at the time that there was not enough water behind some dams to generate sufficient power.

This year has seen above average rainfall, but the institute already has purchased petroleum fired backup generators to handle any deficiencies in hydropower.

The chamber also said that part of the problem was poor planning on the part of the institute management.

One major project to construct a new dam was the victim of Tropical Storm Alma last May.  The institute had to evacuate about 1,100 workers from the Pirrís hydroelectric project May 29 because of the storm which then inflicted costly damage to the construction. The work suffered a major setback.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 211

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Some trees at mine site
are of protected variety


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The shutdown of the Crucitas open pit gold mine is an unintended consequence of a Sala IV constitutional court decision in mid-September. At that time the court issued a protective order for the great green macaw and the almendro or mountain almond tree that the birds inhabit.

There are an estimated 200 great green macaws in Costa Rica. But there are many more specimens of the almendro amarillo, which has the Latin name of Dipteryx panamensis. And some of these are on the site that Industrias Infinito S.A. seeks to use as a gold mining pit.

The bird is called lapa verde in Spanish and has the Latin name of Ara ambigua.

The September order by the constitutional court was comprehensive and covered all of Costa Rica, even though the mountain almond mainly is found in the northern zone.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Roberto Dobles Mora, the environmental minister, directly contradicted the court's order when they issued a decree, published Friday, which allowed the gold mining company to remove trees from some 260 hectares or about 650 acres. The company started work Friday and stopped when officials were served papers Monday. A local environmentalist who has been fighting the mine filed the court case.

This is why the nation's chief prosecutor has opened a criminal case against Arias and Dobles. The decision will revolve around the powers vested in the executive and judicial branches of the government.

The court's order protecting the trees did not have any loopholes. So if a mountain almond tree is on a site, it may not be cut for any reason, according to the order. The order may freeze construction in many areas of the northern zone if it is found that officials of the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones cannot selectively allow cutting.

Infinito has promised to plant 50 trees for each one cut and has filed an environmental impact study promising rehabilitation of the land.

Meanwhile, the Poder Judicial said that the prosecutor based in San Carlos near the mine appeared before a local judge Wednesday to prevent the lumbering of trees on the site. This is in addition to the Sala IV temporary order announced Monday. Infinito says that it was simply doing what the presidential order allowed its employees to do.

The almendro tree was not commercially viable until the introduction of special carbon steel blades about 25 years ago due to the density of the wood. Some trees may be 50 meters, nearly 164 feet, tall.

Interamericana Sur closing
until Sunday morning


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transport officials said Wednesday that the Interamericana Sur highway, Route 2, would be closed from 7 o'clock tonight until 5 a.m. Sunday. Workers are installing a drainage system under the highway at La Cangreja, said the  Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

Officials said that motorists could travel south via Desamparados in the Central Valley or via the Costenera Sur highway along the Pacific to Palmar Norte.

The Desamparados route would be through Tarbaca, La Fila, Río Conejo, Frailes and then either San Cristóbal or  Los Santos to rejoin the Interamerican Sur south of the construction site. The project is valued at about 15 million colons or about $27,300, officials said.

Grecia man murdered,
and employee is held


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone murdered a Grecia man, and one of his employees has been detained after he was found behind the wheel of the dead man's crashed Toyota Prado. The 59-year-old dead man was identified by his last name of Murillo.

The man was found outside his home in Grecia Wednesday morning. Investigators found the interior of the home disturbed as if the murderer was seeking something. The victim had just purchased the vehicle.

The suspect, a man of 20 years, was noticed because the vehicle was involved in a traffic accident in Argentina de Grecia a short time after the murder. When officers of the Policía de Tránsito checked the license plate number they realized that the vehicle belonged to the dead man. The suspect lived on the same property as the murdered man.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 211

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Private sector employees will get a 7 percent raise Jan. 1
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minimum wage employers must pay their workers is going up 7 percent Jan. 1, but the increase is much less than employee negotiators sought. Workers sought more than 16 percent.

The increase covers the period from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2009. The percentage is less than half of the estimated inflation for 2008.

The wages are set by the Consejo de Salarios after negotiations between employee and employer groups. Officials announced the wage agreement Wednesday afternoon. For the last half of 2008 workers got a 6.58 percent increase in the minimum salaries.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado said that perhaps 1.5 million workers would be affected.  Many in Costa Rica work at the government established minimum wages which are set for each job category.

The Unión de Cámaras said that the business community
was hurting because of the tightening of credit due to the world economic situation. It said there was a direct relationship between borrowing and unemployment.

The Unión de Cámaras also said that uncertainty exists about when and if the free trade treaty with the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic would enter into force.

The salary increases are not the only amounts employers must pay. An increase in salary means an increase in worker insurance and in payments to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social that companies must pay. Worker risk insurance is going up overall about 10 percent, but what each employer pays is indexed to the salaries of employees.

Under the agreement a carpenter, for example, who now makes 6,686 colons a day minimum will make 7,154 colons.  A computer programmer will go from 8,032 a day to 8,594 colons daily minimum.

Salaries are adjusted every six months to account for inflation and the devaluation of the colon, which was at 550.1 to the U.S. dollar Wednesday.


At this car wash consumers can ease their guilty consciences
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Feeling guilty about driving that gas-guzzling SUV, but not quite ready to give it up?

San José residents may soon ease their environmental conscience with trips to Suds Carwash, a company that uses cutting-edge green technology to leave vehicles sparkling clean.

General manager and owner Gary Mick said that after traveling around Costa Rica, he witnessed his fair share of painfully slow car washes that made a dirty job out of what should be a clean business.

“I've been all over this country, and I've seen a lot of car washes, but it'd take anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour to get your car washed anywhere,” he said. “They weren't customer friendly— they were places where people would wash cars by hand and didn't pay attention to the discharge of the water, or even what chemicals they were using.”

Mick owned a car wash in Virginia near the D.C. area before moving to Costa Rica two years ago. He immediately saw a market not only for an environmentally friendly car wash, he said, but for one that didn't necessarily run on “Tico time.”

“One of my first times down here I was with a taxi driver and he went into a car wash, and he was like, oh, don't worry, it won't take that long,” said Mick. “It was an hour and fifteen minutes before we got out of there.”

According to Mick, industrial car washes usually use 140 gallons of fresh water per vehicle. At Suds, cars are washed with the same amount of water, but only 10 of those gallons consist of fresh water.

The rest is recycled water that has been carefully filtered and cleaned in eight different stages of treatment.

The recycled water first enters a compartment which separates any oil traces from the water, then enters a
car wash graphic

filtration system that uses UV technology to place a magnetic charge on any material waste, which is then removed by multiple filters.

“At any given time we have 12,000 gallons of stored water that's always in the process of being cleaned,” said Mick.

In addition to using 75 percent less electricity than other car washes, the company also uses environmentally friendly cleaning fluids and biodegradable soap. Most of the green products are imported from the U.S., but Mick said he hopes that by striking a deal with a local manufacturer, they will soon be able to buy the products locally.  One branch in Los Yoses and another in Guadalupe are set to be running in full capacity after Oct. 31.

With an exterior car wash taking less than five minutes, compared to what would take 15 to 18 minutes to wash by hand, Mick said he believes the company will be a hit among an increasingly time-conscious Tico population.

“Ticos are moving towards time being a lot more important,” he said. “Fast food and drive-throughs are all doing very well. If people weren't that concerned about time, they'd still be sitting in the local soda taking half an hour to eat lunch.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 211


Our reader's opinion
Double Ds define deadly problem found in Puerto Viejo

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There's been a lot of press coverage through the years of the crime problems on the Caribbean, and particularly in the tourist town of Puerto Viejo.

To be sure, Puerto Viejo has problems with crime, but what community in Costa Rica doesn't?

In fact, what community anywhere doesn't have a crime problem of one sort or another?
 
I've read and heard that more than a few people feel the Caribbean and Puerto Viejo are losing their "pura vida" as a result of crime.

Well, I've been back a month now and I, too, am worried that Puerto Viejo is losing its "pura vida," but I now see that being as much a result of the two "D's" as I do it being because of crime.
 
What, some may be asking, are the two "D's"?
 
Its simple: development and dust!
 
When I came to PV ten years ago, I did so with a friend who, at that time, had owned her property on what is known as Margarita Road for seven years.
 
Margarita Road was, truly, a road into the jungle.
 
Today, as I learned on a recent bike ride, Margarita Road looks more like the roads leading into Topanga and Blueberry canyons in southern California than it does the road into the jungle I experienced just 10 years ago.
 
Many recently arrived bourgeois bohemian expats who claim to subscribe to the principles of "pura vida," are proving by their actions that their commitment to "pura vida" is only as deep as their need to recreate the lives they claim they wanted to escape in the United States or Europe.
 
Margarita Road is sad testimony to that reality.
 
But an even more immediate threat to "pura vida," literally and figuratively, is the dust.
 
The roads here have always been rough. Long stretches of dirt and semi-paved roads, riddled with potholes the size of lunar craters, are the rule, not the exception.
 
But until about five or six years ago, the number of cars here was pretty small. But in the last several years, the number of cars has exploded and, with that explosion, the dust problem has become, for lack of a better word, suffocating.
 
As an old social worker with a background in public health, it blows my mind that the government of Costa Rica is
allowing this dangerous  health issue to go unaddressed.

There is nothing "pura vida" anymore about taking a bike ride from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillio. Because of the dust, it is a serious health hazard.

Cars, trucks, and Status Utility Vehicles, driven by Ticos and bourgeois bohemian expats alike, careen down the road at breakneck speeds, kicking up clouds of dust so thick they often look like smoke from a raging fire.
 
As a result, any person walking or riding a bicycle is inhaling huge amounts of dust particles and other dangerous materials that have no place in a person's lungs.
 
The other day, on my way to the pulperia, I passed a young Gringa carrying an infant through a cloud of dust so thick I was coughing as I passed through it. There is no way exposure to that level of dust didn't pose a serious health threat to all of us, but especially to that infant.
 
I can only wonder what the rates of asthma and other bronchial health issues among local kids and old folks must be.
 
A good friend of mine who was born and bred here, sustained an eye infection as a result of dust getting in behind his contact lense while he was riding his bicycle. Even though he was wearing sunglasses, the dust was just too much.

As a result, he rarely rides his bike anymore in the place where he was born. How sad is that?
 
And in addition to the dust, another danger for the bicyclist or pedestrian are the "bullets" those careening vehicles often send shooting through the air.
 
By bullets, I mean rocks that, when thrown up into the air by the rear tires of speeding vehicles, are, potentially, every bit as deadly as a real bullet shot out of a gun.
 
Two years ago, one of those "bullets" hit and pierced the wire mesh basket on my bike. Had it been thrown just a few inches higher, it would have hit me squarely in the abdomen or chest — something I prefer not to think about.
 
"Pura vida" is, indeed, under siege here and crime is an element of that reality. But anyone who minimizes the threat the two "D's" pose to "pura vida" is living in a state of mind defined by another word that begins with "D" — Denial.
 
That's why I spend so much time on the beach and in the ocean where the issues of crime and the two "D's" can, at least for a time, be put on the back burner and "pura vida" still thrives.
Michael Cook
Puerto Viejo de Limón


Foreign gamblers lost money to thieves who cloned their credit or debit cards
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two gambling house employees have been detained on the allegation that they were stealing from bettors by cloning their debit or credit cards.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the victims were mostly all foreigners with a lot of disposable cash so they did not miss the money immediately. The money was taken from various automatic teller machines in amounts usually less than $800, investigators said.
Agents said the men obtained the information used to clone the credit cards where they worked.

The men, 24 and 34 years, came into police hands Tuesday night at an automatic teller machine in Sabana Oeste, agents said. The thieves who took money out of the machines with cloned credit cards wore masks to avoid being recognized by the surveillance cameras.

One of the suspects carried a firearm, agents said, adding that they also found a mask.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 211



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.

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

Statistics
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.

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


Route planner on Web
thanks to San José firm


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A local firm has put up a Web site to help motorists plan their trips here.

The first route planner for Costa Rica, programmed by Tecno Alianza, a company based in San José, is free.

Planning a trip in Costa Rica and estimating driving times is not easy especially when you are a foreigner, said Morten Sonntag, a spokesman for the firm. The online, free route planner from YourTravelmap.com is helpful when it comes to driving times and driving directions, he added in a release.

Motorists just have to select the starting point and destinations, then the directions, driving times, distance and the route on a map will be displayed, said Sonntag. In addition the coordinates and the altitude of the chosen destination are provided.

Users can choose between kilometers and miles, Sonntag added. The site also has a zoomable map.

The application was programmed in Costa Rica and is online in three languages: English, German and Spanish.

Ring linked to Hezbollah
dismantled in Colombia


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian authorities have announced the dismantling of an international drug and money-laundering ring that had alleged ties to Hezbollah guerrillas in the Middle East.

The attorney general's office says an international sting led to the arrest of nearly 100 suspects in Colombia and other countries.

Authorities say those arrested include three suspects from the Middle East who allegedly used profits from the drug trade to fund Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is a Lebanon-based Shi'ite militant group that the United States considers a terrorist organization.

Colombian officials say the drug ring used routes in Venezuela, Panamá, Guatemala, Europe and the Middle East.


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