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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 25, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 211
Jo Stuart
About us
An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
An expensive Web page that doesn't work
The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo grossly overpaid to have a foreign company set up a Web site and call center two years ago. And it seems that officials here have been neglecting it ever since.

We thought tourism was important to Costa Rica and even to the tourism institute.

News story on BELOW!

People in the industry complain that the site does not work well. The tourism institute reports that in two years only 80 reservations have been made through the site. 

Initially, tourism officials justified the $833,000 price tag because a data base engine to place reservations was suppose to cost about $100,000. Now they say reservations are not important. Well, maybe not to them.

The site gets from 30,000 to 50,000 hits a month. Can we assume that the Web pages are so unattractive that hardly anyone wants to visit Costa Rica after viewing We doubt it. 

More than a week ago, A.M. Costa Rica disclosed that the valuable domain listing was not even in the name of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. A  spokesman for the domain owner, the contractor, Depegar. com, Inc. of Argentina, says that is not so. Tourism officials decided in a meeting Friday they might want to find out the facts.

This would take about three minutes on the Internet. We did it and told them. And they have sat there for more than a week doing nothing about this?

This is one issue President Abel Pacheco cannot duck. The contract for this turkey was signed on his watch. He is the top man in charge, even if his minister of tourism seeks to distance himself from this issue, as he did in a meeting Friday.

Some cynical Costa Rican would say that this was another government blunder done by fools without adequate knowledge. We disagree. We have found all involved to be of above-average intelligence. The question is what will they do now that the contract is up for renewal.

Another of a series in legal awareness
How to protect a real good real estate deal
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In many places in Costa Rica, property values are moving so fast that a great deal reached Monday could be history Friday. 

Here is the ever-so-common scenario: A dream property is found for only $100K. A deal is struck between seller and buyer, and a firm handshake is exchanged between parties to clinch it.

In the days of chivalry, when a person’s word was as good as gold, that would be enough. This in not true today. If the seller finds a better offer before money changes hands and before the property is legally transferred at the National Registry, the great deal sometimes fizzles out.

It happens every day in Costa Rica. One needs more than a handshake to protect an offer and acceptance.

Very few Costa Rican lawyers know about articles 34, 35, and 36 of the Law of Document Registration at the Régistro Nacional, the national registry, which was reformed along with the notary code in 1998.

These articles created a legal method to protect any deal pertaining to anything registerable at the National Registry. This includes real property, vehicles, boats, airplanes, pledges, mortgages and trusts, to name a few.

The term for this legal tool is reserva de prioridad which means "priority reserve." It protects a deal or contract from changes in price and/or agreed-on terms.

It literally is a legal handshake between parties protecting the terms of a deal for 30 days at the registry. A Costa Rican notary prepares the document. Notaries are also attorneys in Costa Rica, and the notary files it with the national registry. Once filed, the document is noted immediately on the registry’s computers and can only be replaced by the document it was made to protect. If for some reason the parties decide not to make the deal, the registry can be requested to cancel the notation after 30 days.

A priority reserve works great when a buyer needs to transfer money or get a loan from a bank. Sometimes a seller needs to accomplish conditions like evict tenants, build fences or make improvements to satisfy the buyer.

There are many times when transactions are more complicated, and purchase options are needed or trusts must be created. A priority reserve can protect the basic tenets of an agreement until such time as the other documents are ready.

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Let the buyer beware: Some deals are done in triplicate.

The most important aspect of priority reserve is to protect a price or agree-to amount as with a mortgage. It protects a $100,000 great deal from being swiped by a higher bidder once a price is set or a mortgage from turning into a  major financial nightmare.

A priority reserve works along with earnest money deposits and escrows and is not meant to replace them. The document adds additional protection to any transaction. 

The main objective of this valuable legal instrument is to avoid duplicity of transactions.

Selling the same asset to many different potential buyers is very common in Costa Rica. Shysters prey on interested buyers by getting earnest money over and over again then never completing a deal. 

A priority reserve can take the risk and fear out of buying property, lending money and investing in Costa Rica, protecting both parties in transactions. The major problem is most people have no knowledge of this legal tool. When shopping for a professional in this country find one that does, it can save bundles of money and lots of grief. 

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides professional services to the international community. He can be reached at Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at

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Arrest warrants issued
for Green Fund trio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican authorities have issued international arrest warrants for three members of the Jafek family who were involved in the ill-fated Green Fund during the golden days of high-interest investments.
Billie Joe Jafek
Being sought is Tom Jafek, 66, Billie Joe Jafek, 67, and J. Thomas Jafek II, 43, according to the Web site of INTERPOL, the international police agency.

All are being sought to answer allegations of fraud, said the Web site.

Costa Rican judicial 

authorities had no information on the case Friday. However, a number of investors have expressed unhappiness with Jafek when his Web site was shut down and promised payments were not made.

Jafek, whose name was spelled Jafeck by officials here, was an investor in the Villalobos high interest operation and with Roy Taylor, late operator of The Vault investment operation.

The Villalobos Brothers closed their operation Oct. 14, 2002, thus heralding a domino-like string of failure by similar firms.

Jafek said in June 2003 that he was about to sue Taylor because The Vault owed him and his investors $800,000. Not long afterwards, Taylor killed himself while in police custody during a raid on his headquarters.

Still, Jafek said he was hopeful that he would be able to pay off his customers. For more than a year Jafek kept in touch with A.M. Costa Rica by using a Internet e-mail address. He did not report his location.

The arrest warrant for the Jafeks is believed to have been generated by formal criminal complaints by creditors.

The Green Fund investment operation was in the Mercedes Tower on Paseo Colón. Lawyers involved with investors said that their clients were promised 3 percent per month but that payments stopped about the beginning of 2003. There may be as much as $10 million in investor money involved.

The INTERPOL posting is the first that Billie Joe Jafek and J. Thomas Jafek have been mentioned as being involved in business dealings. At one point, J. Thomas was operating a small business for his father at an Escazú dwelling, and he was believed to have invested in an Escazú eatery as well as other similar outlets.

Calderón in prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier has been remanded to prison for nine months while the investigation into alleged corruption continues. A judge made the decision which was announced Friday by the press office of the Poder Judicial.

Calderón was taken into custody Thursday when he appeared before prosecutors to discuss the corruption allegations.

Calderón was the leader of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and is a key figure in an investigation into a $9 million commission paid to political associates after the Asamblea Nacional approved a $39 million loan from Finland for the purchase of medical equipment and supplies. Calderón is expected to appeal.

Guard registration lags

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The time period expired Friday for security firms to register under provisions of a new law, and officials are surprised that only about half the estimated 800 companies and 23,000 employees have registered.

Officials said that employers have an obligation to make sure the firms they hire are fully in compliance with the new law. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública will respond to inquiries, officials said.

Among other things, those guards who carry guns must submit to a psychological examination of their fitness for the job.

Slide buries three

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three persons died Friday when a landslide fell atop the dwelling in which they were sleeping. The disaster happened in Caletas de Violines on the Isla Violines.

Dead were Isabel de los Angeles Gutiérrez Alvarez, 42, Maura Espinoza Alvarado, 29, and the couple’s daughter, Dannaly Gutiérrez Espinosa, 9, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. 

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The Instituto de Turismo Web page team, clockwise from left: Miguel Zaldivar Gomez, manager of projects; Saul Ruiz Fernandez,  e-channels management; and Rafael Quesada Alvarado, manager of marketing and promotions, with Alvaro Villalobos, press officer. 
A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Tourism institute will check Web page ownership
By Clair-Marie Robertson
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has set up a three-person committee to determine ownership of the Web site and to check on its operations.

That was the outcome of a meeting Friday with a reporter following news articles that said the Web site had made only 80 reservations in two years and that the contractor and not the institute was the Web site owner of record.

Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, minister of Turismo, opened the meeting but did not participate in the discussions.

The three employees who make up the committee are Saul Ruiz Fernández, manager of e channels; Miguel Zaldivar Gómez, manager of projects; and Rafael Quesada Alvarado, manager of promotions and marketing. Alvaro Villalobos, press officer of the institute was also present. The meeting was held at the request of a reporter.

The meeting had been requested days earlier. When asked why officials needed three days to prepare answers to basic questions about the Web site, Ruiz said "as this is a delicate matter the answers to your questions need to be accurate."

The institute agreed to pay $833,000 to the Argentine travel company Despegar.Com Inc. to set up and run the Web site. The contract was
signed four months into Abel Pacheco’s administration when Rúben Pacheco was minister of Turismo.

A simple Internet check by A.M. Costa Rica showed that the valuable domain name is owned by Despegar.Com until 2012.  However, the company said it is prepared to transfer the name to the Costa Rican government.

The meeting came at a time when some in the tourism industry here are concerned about operation of the Web site. Readers have reported great difficulty in making reservations online. One reader pointed out that three of the nine messages she sent via the Web page to the hotels online have been returned as undeliverable. 

The information that exists on the pages is out of date. Another reader noted that www.visitcostarica.
com lists the surfing competition schedule for 2003 and not 2004. Yet another reader has been trying to book online for three weeks and got the
following message: "We are currently working to improve services of our website." 

At the meeting Friday, the members of the new committee said that they load the page everyday. But none of the employees present at the committee has tried to make a reservation online, they said.

During the Friday meeting, Ruiz was put in charge of contacting The Registry at Info Avenue, the company where the domain has been registered. "We were not aware that the domain was in the name of Despegar.Com, Inc.," Ruiz said. "We will immediately request that the name be amended in the registry," Ruiz said. 

That the Web site has only made 80 reservations since its inception two years ago did not shock the tourism officials. "It isn’t a big problem because the reservation online was never supposed to be the main feature of the Web site," Ruiz said.  However, the contract specifically states that making reservations is a priority and in the past other tourism officials have justified the high price for the Web site by noting that a sophisticated data base was being included in order to make reservations. Rights to that computer program were said to be about $100,000.

The Web site is set up with a search facility that allows site visitors to search for hotels and other tourist services by location and price.

Ruiz blamed the lack of support from and high expectations of the tourism industry to justify so few reservations on the Web site. Ruiz also said that the data base is thin because not many of the hotels in Costa Rica meet the institute’s standards. Many pages of the Web site lack illustrations of the hotels they are designed to feature.

Of the problems navigating the site, Ruiz said that the contract between the institute and Despegar.Com Inc., clearly states that the Web site should be running 99.9 percent of the time. "I will need to find out if this is really the case. We are supposed to be informed of this. How can we do anything if no  one tells us that our site isn’t working."

When officials were reminded that the Web site does not contain a way for users to send feedback, Zaldivar said that having feedback on the site is a  good idea, "something we need to look into." 

Castro, the minister, has in the past credited the Web site as one reason for an increase in tourism. A.M. Costa Rica has pointed out that the increase in tourists looks better because officials are making comparisons with 2002, a year affected by fears of travel following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The newspaper has encouraged tourism officials to use 2000 and January to August 2001 as base periods for comparison.

The contract with Despegar calls for the firm to maintain a call center for possible tourists, so the $833,000 price for two years includes that operation. Still local Web designers have expressed shock at the cost of the site, including what appears to be a $2,000 a month charge for monitoring and maintaining the Web pages.

A little saying carries a lot of weight in real estate
Quien no oye consejo no llega a viejo

"He who won’t listen to advice will never reach old age." In other words, one has to listen and learn from the experience and wisdom of others, especially those who have lived a long time in order to mature and learn how to avoid life’s pitfalls.

This dicho also reminds us that it is important to listen to the voices of reason rather than jumping to unfounded conclusions or making snap decisions. When we’re looking to buy a house, for example, we need to ask many questions and seek the advice of someone with experience in the building trade. 

In Costa Rica we have to be doubly cautious when buying property by checking records at the national registry to be sure who the real owners are and to make certain that some unscrupulous person has not secretly placed a lien against the property. Caviat emptor, as they said in ancient Rome, rules because court decisions in such matters have turned out to be rather ambiguous, and the judges don’t always come down on the side of the hapless buyer. 

A friend of mine, who is considering retiring in Costa Rica, asked me how newcomers who don’t know the local customs and traditions or even much Spanish can get along. My consejo is that if you’re buying a piece of property, hire a Costa Rican couple to keep an eye on the place when you’re not around and who will help you out with house work and yard work, running errands, and serve as your link to the local community. 

It’s a good idea if this couple has children because kids usually indicate stability and besides, it’s nice to have children about. You’ll be surprised how quickly these people will become part of your family, and vice versa. Of course, some people who are used to being alone and treasure their solitude may have to lay down some groundrules in order for this arrangement to work, but Ticos will usually understand and respect your wishes.

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

Another consejo is to please always have 
everything in writing regarding your caretaker family. Be sure to stipulate that they are working for you for a stated amount of money paid weekly or monthly, and keep records of all the work done for you. This agreement protects everyone concerned. 

A man I used to know bought a farm near San Carlos and asked a neighbor to keep an eye on the place for him. The neighbor did a good job, not only "keeping and eye" on the place but also doing routine maintenance. After a few  years the neighbor claimed the farm as his own. 

The outraged man went to court, but since he had nothing in writing regarding his working relationship with the neighbor, in order to get his land back, he was ordered to pay the neighbor what amounted to a substantial amount of back salary. 

So, ¡escuche mi consejo! Always keep records and have those who work for you sign an agreement. Be friendly, of course, but also be wise. Trust your new friends, but protect your property as well. If you do that from the beginning, you’ll save yourself a possible very big headache in the future.

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Great Spanish parody spryly approaches 400 years
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 400th anniversary of "El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha" is just a few months away. Many will remember the book as being something they were forced to read and regurgitate on mind-numbing exams. But people may have more in common with Don Quixote than they think.

Revisiting this parody by Miguel de Cervantes has the potential to give a reader a slightly more satirical outlook on life and maybe appreciate "Don Quixote" a little more than the first time round. It’s possible that a reader may not have enjoyed "Don Quixote" because of youth and hadn’t been weathered enough by life’s experiences. As Don Quixote said "Time ripens all things — no man is born wise." 

Many people feel that they can identify with Don Quixote’s misadventures. He represents the anti-hero: a non-perfect protagonist. Rather than creating Don Quixote as someone to be emulated, Cervantes instead offered his readers a fallible main character, one whose mistakes are meant to educate as well as entertain.  The word quixotic now means caught up in the pursuit of unreachable goals.

The tale, of course, is that of an aging man so caught up in the tales of knighthood that he sallies forth looking for adventure. Some say that the principal characters in the book, Quixote (or Quijote in Spanish) and his squire, Sancho Panza, represent the two poles of the Spanish soul: the dreamer and idealist vs. the practical, Panza. At the very least, the book is a satirical effort mocking the tales of knighthood being written by others.

Certainly one overriding theme is personal liberty, perhaps a result of Cervante’s imprisonment for five years by pirates.

Innumerable films, paintings, songs, and sculptures have been based on "Don Quixote."  His jousting at windmills has become a cliche. The drama entitled "The Man of La Mancha" has been performed both as an opera and as a stage production. In fact many Americans may be more familiar with the Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha" or the subsequent movie than with the book itself.

It's hard to imagine a finer Don Quixote than Peter O'Toole, who spent most of his career with a slightly mad, dreaming look in his eyes. Most people know the theme song "The Impossible Dream." The locations for the movie were in Italy. James Coco, as Sancho Panza, is overshadowed by the film's irresistible Dulcinea: Sophia Loren, at her peak. 

Many scholars say that Cervantes produced the best works by a Spaniard. Part I of the work came from 

A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Arlington Gonzalez Garcia, 20, remembers reading ‘Don Quixote’ at school and not enjoying it. He thinks that if he read it again he might appreciate it more

the press in 1605. Some 10 years later, Cervantes produced what would be called today a sequel in the face of some fraudulent Quixote works. He spent some time before his death in 1616 reworking both parts.

The government of Spain has set up the Comité de Honor de la Comisión del IV Centenario de la Publicación de El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha. This precursor to the celebration of the 400th birthday next year emphasizes that "Don Quixote" is a treasure of the entire Spanish-
speaking world.

Guido Saenz, minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, was to leave Costa Rica for Spain Sunday to attend a meeting which will be hosted by the Spanish president, D. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and the King and Queen of Spain.

The commemoration in Spain intends to highlight the importance of "Don Quixote: in cultural terms. But perhaps Don Quixote is a character that is not specific to one culture but to all. Don Quixote is a man who likes his drink and his women and dreams impossible dreams. The troubles and humor of "Don Quixote" are not specific to his time or to his culture, and that’s what makes Cervantes work timeless. 

Florida tourist, 32, dies in surf at Playa Zancudo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 32-year-old U.S. citizen from Florida drowned Tuesday morning at Playa Zancudo, near Golfito. 

The victim, Jimmy Kennedy, went in the surf shortly after eating a big breakfast. He was a bartender in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. His girlfriend of ten months, Ms. Ellie Sullivan, said Kennedy was a loving and happy person. Ms. Sullivan, also from Fort Meyers, Fla., was with Kennedy at the beach when he drowned. She said, "I remember that he took a boogie board and went out to play in the surf." 

"The problem was that he had just eaten. This is a warning to everyone. The currents are dangerous here. Jimmy was worried about coming to Costa Rica. But after he got here, he fell in love with the place and was eager to move here," said Ms. Sullivan.

Ryan Korone, Ms. Sullivan’s son, attempted 

resuscitation on Kennedy, but it was too late. "I am very proud of my son. He did everything he could to save him," said Ms. Sullivan. Kennedy originally was from the U.S. state of New Jersey.

Ms. Sullivan said that she was concerned that there was no one on the beach that knew resuscitation apart from her son.  She said she remembers calling 911 but she never saw any emergency services arrive.

"I don’t think that anything could have saved him," Ms. Sullivan said. "The only thing I wish is that Playa Zancudo had a better emergency medical system. It is needed. His death will not be in vain." 

Kennedy’s death was one of several last week along the Pacific coast, in part due to the strong rip tides. Other victims were Costa Rican.

The deaths continued over the weekend with heavy seas provoked by bad weather.  In Tibás a 15-year-old died in a stream there. 

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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