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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 213
Jo Stuart
About us

Fake deeds and crooked notaries
Big land fraud ring busted, investigators say

By Selleny Sanabria Soto
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators staged 16 morning raids to arrest 13 persons they claimed were involved in property frauds, some dating back to as far as 1982. The swindle arrests involved five notaries, the kind of lawyer specially trained to handle secure property transfers.

At least two North Americans have been victims of the ring of thieves, including one man from Miami who had 35 properties in the Provincia de Cartago falsely sold in his name to third parties, officials said.

According to investigators, the ring sought out property buyers and even used classified newspaper ads to attract them. The gang also created a number of Costa Rican corporations to mask the movements of property titles. They also negotiated mortgages and got the money on properties they did not own.

Raids were conducted starting at 6 a.m. in Hatillo 3, Barrio Los Sauces in San Francisco de Dos Rios, the San Sebastian section of San José, a lawyer's office located southeast of the Plaza de las Garantías Sociales between avenidas 4 and 6, Alajuela, Desamparados, Tibás, Curridabat and Paso Ancho. among others.

Although five notaries were among those arrested, one had been suspended by the Dirección Nacional de Notariado for previous activities. 

The scams usually involved false paperwork validated by crooked notaries. In Costa Rica notaries are lawyers who have had special training. Their verifications seldom are questioned.

Also arrested was an elderly man agents said was the leader of the operation. They identified him by the last name of Mora, who served eight years for similar crimes. He had trouble walking to the waiting patrol car. Other members of the ring falsified paperwork or simply carried the false paperwork to be placed in the public record at the Registro Nacional, agents said.

A.M. Costa Rica has expended significant effort to alert readers to ways crooks can steal property. The newspaper also has reported that the high courts here are divided on who should be protected, the original owner or the person who purchased the fake title in good faith.

The newspaper also has published articles that explain the difference between mere possession and ownership.

The property theft ring usually targeted
parcels where the owner did not live, including vacant lots. By creating paperwork and false signatures validated by notaries they could market these properties or mortgage them in exchange for cash.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said the scammers sometimes used Spanish-language newspaper ads to attract victims. He conducted a late morning news conference to discuss the case. Three persons still are being sought, he said.

Although 65 properties are involved in the current case, officials said they think that the number of frauds actually committed are much greater. This case began with a complaint about a fake sale of a piece of property in Santa Ana. Properties involved are also in Tibás, Guanacaste, Desamparados and other towns in Costa Rica.

Even the government was a victim. A Costa Rican man bought a property for millions of colons, but the owner of the land turned out to be the Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo.

Those arrested were identified with last names. In addition to Mora, some of those arrested were reported to be Chacón, Ortis, Rojas, Montiel, a woman named Estrada, Jiménez, and the notaries Damas, Chacón Alfaro, Jara Guzman and a woman notary also named Jara Guzman.

The band that triggered the arrests Wednesday are a small part of what appears to be a cottage industry here by people who seek out land with an absent owner.

Frequently obituaries give clues to owners who cannot protest the fake sale of their land. Foreigners who own land but leave the country for long periods also are targets.

The case is in the hands of the Fiscalía de Fraudes of Ministerio Público. The press office of the Poder Judicial said the possible charges include fraud, falsification of documents, use of false documents and forgery.

Although A.M. Costa Rica has written extensively about foreigners being victims, the majority of those losing their land are Costa Rican, usually elderly. The recourse to such a theft usually is a prolonged court case with an uncertain outcome, particularly if the new owner shows that he or she purchased the land in good faith.

This newspaper has suggested that property owners here use mortgage certificates as a form of security to protect their land.

The rising value of land here encourages this type of theft.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 213

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Cultural encounter brings
Indian groups to city

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Indians of Costa Rica live a life replete with rich culture, ancestral traditions and artisan work of excellent quality, however, they also suffer from malnutrition and other health problems more acute than those of the rest of the Tico population. 

Both sides are meeting in the Central Nacional de la Cultura when the Encuentro Intercultural Indígena 2005 and the Foro Nacional de Salud de los Pueblos Indígenas meet today through Sunday.  Entrance is free. 
The encuentro is designed to make the people of San José more aware of the lives of the Indians.  The encountro has two parts.  A forum on the health of indigenous persons started Wednesday.  The Foro Nacional de Salude de los Pueblos Indígenas offers medical workers the space to discuss themes such as:  indigenous therapies and medicines, the cleanliness of the drinking water in those communities and the health of the children and adolescent Indians.  The forum ends Friday.

The actual encuentro starts today at 9 a.m.  Organizers hope to put representatives of the different tribes in contact with the people of San José.  Organizers have several activities planned. 

Today, starts with a workshop to teach Josefinos how to create traditional Indian pottery and other art.  There will also be an exposition and sale of traditional medical plants and an exhibition of photographs taken of the different indigenous communities.  In the afternoon, there will be a video presentation among other activities.  Much of the same is planned for the rest of the encuentro – which runs through Sunday - but an addition to the itinerary is a forum for adolescents and children and a conference about autonomous development of the different tribes.  Both of these activities are scheduled for Friday.   

According to information provided by the Dirección General de Cultura, eight indigenous populations live in 24 reservations throughout Costa Rica.  The total Indian population in 2000 was 63,876 persons representing 1.7 percent of the total population of Costa Rica.  The eight groups of Costa Rica are the Teribes, Malekus, Guaymíes, Chorotegas, Bribris, Cabécares, Bruncas and Huetares.

Dogs (and cats) need
silent auction for x-rays

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Refugio de Animales, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the animals of Costa Rica, has a problem.  The refugio, which helps approximately 25,000 animals a year and finds homes for 6,000 cats and dogs, needs an x-ray machine.  A proper doggie diagnosis is difficult without one, and many of the pet owners who come to the refuge can't afford a regular veterinarian, the refuge said.   

As a result, the refuge, known formally as the Asociacion Humanitaria Para la Proteccion Animal, is holding “The Cause for Paws,” a silent auction scheduled for Nov. 3 at the Costa Rica Country Club in Escazú.  The auction, which starts at 6 p.m. and is scheduled to go to 8:15 p.m., will have nearly $25,000 in items.  Items range from a $12 gift certificate to a $3,000 fishing trip.  Tickets cost 10,000 colons or $20. 

Each day the refugio sterilizes 50 to 60 animals, mostly for owners who can't afford the surgery, the refugio said.  The use of the x-ray machine would work on the same principal.  Owners would pay what they could afford, organizers said.   

For more information, contact Joyce Kober at 267-7118 or joykober@hotmail.com. 

Salesmanship seems to run
in this Río Azul family

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers from the juvenile division arrested an 18-year-old convicted drug dealer who had violated her parole, the officers said. 

The Río Azul de La Unión, Cartago, woman, identified by the last names Campos Vega, had been sentenced to four years in prison for drug trafficking, officers said.

According to officers, the woman had earned her freedom for good behavior and was on parole.  She quickly took advantage of the situation and began selling again in the main street in Río Azul, police said.  Numerous addicts were looking for her, the officers said.

Fuerza Pública archives say that the woman's parents have been convicted of similar crimes, officers said. 

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Repair jobs involve about 238 kms. of highway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public works ministry is beginning the massive job of fixing 173 damaged national highways and some 749 lesser cantonal roads.

Some 2.5 billion colons ($5.1 million) already had been invested and a billion colons will be spent next week, according to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Tranportes.

Throughout the country, 55 bridges over national highways are in need of major repair or reconstruction, and some 168 structures on municipal and cantonal routes also need rebilding, the ministry said.

For national highways, the repair costs are estimated at 2.6 billion colons, about $5.3 million, and the damage to lesser routes is even more: some 13.6 billion colones, about $28 million, the ministry said.

In addition, repairs must be made on the failed dikes in Parrita and Aguirre on the central pacific coast and at Filadelfia on the Nicoya Peninsula. All three areas were hit hard by heavy rains, flooding and raging rivers over the last month.

Priority will be given to national Route 32 that runs from San José to Guápiles and Route 21 that runs down the backbone of the Nicoya Peninsula, said the ministry. Also a priority is the InterAmerican Highway
north to the Nicaraguan border, the ministry said.

In all, some 238 kilometers (148 miles) of road have been seriously damaged. In some cases repair crews will have to wait for water to recede before beginning work.

The rapairs are under the supervision of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.  Some 10 crews are reported at work in Guanacaste on just the gravel roads. These are contracted crews from major construction companies, such as Sánchez-Carvajal, Pedregal and Tractores San Antonio.

The ministry has a list of 44 separate road and bridge jobs that need to be done. Many of these require formal approval from the budget watchdog, the Contraloría de la República. The ministry is seeking approval from the Contraloría to make direct contracts for repairs without the delay of the bidding process.

The ministry also lists the Costanera Sur between Quepos and Dominical as one of the three routes most affected by the flooding. A chunk of the coastal highway simply vanished during flooding last Saturday and the road is cut. Another seriously affected route is the one from San Isidro to Barú, as well as Route 35 from San José.

In all, the ministry reported that 44 separate landslides were handled.

Now the concern is shifting to the Caribbean coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though the Caribbean has remained relatively dry despite the thorough drenching of the rest of the country, a low pressure system off the coast is finally causing emergency commission officials to turn their attention to that region.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias raised the warning for the Caribbean to yellow.  They took the same action in the zona norte and the Pacific coast now that the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional forecast heavy rains in the north and central Caribbean Coast. 

As a result, the emergency commission has sent personnel and reinforced potential shelters with supplies should more people be forced from their homes, the commission said.  The commission is asking people in the alerted regions to stay informed about their situations and heed the call to evacuate should the officials be forced to take such actions.     

Officials are especially worried about Orosí and Jucó, the towns near Cartago where some 7,000,000 cubic feet of ground slid Monday.  The commission still
thinks that area unsafe and are keeping a careful watch for further landslides, they said. 

In addition, emergency commission officials have called in psychologists from the University of Costa Rica to monitor the mental well-being of the residents of Orosí and Jucó. Those communities are in a high risk zone and Lorena Sáenz, one of the psychologists, say the need to keep people from panicking is very important.  Seven people and a string of houses were burried by a landslide there Aug. 31, 2002.

Wednesday, workers said the mud pile from the landslide had not shifted so they were able to start cleaning up near the bottom.  The slide covered the main road in Jucó and completely covered a local bridge with mud. 

Emergency commission officials added that the situation in Guanacaste continues to improve.  Local emergency committees said that only 536 persons remain in nine shelters in the province.  However, though people are beginning to return home, officials warn that the possibility exists of heavy rains next week and persons should be ready to return to the shelters should the need arise. 

Costa Rica takes a sharp dip in global survey of its competitiveness
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica took a nose dive in the global competitive rankings according to a World Economic Forum report.  The competitiveness of the country's economy ranks lower than several Latin American counterparts including Chile, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico among others.  Its overall ranking of 64th is down 14 places from 2004.  Costa Rica follows Namibia and stands one place ahead of Brazil, the report said. 

Several other Central American and Caribbean nations struggled as well.  The Dominican Republic fell the farthest – 30 spots – out of the 117 countries polled.  The competitiveness of the Dominican economy now ranks 102. 

The annual study is one of the monitors of the competitive condition of economies worldwide.  The global competitiveness report has expanded its geographic coverage over the years and now assesses
117 economies. The report is unique in that the methodology combines publicly available data with survey data that captures the perceptions and observations of business leaders in a given country, the economic forum said.

Nordic countries and larger east-Asian countries are seeming to do well.  Finland is first, followed by the United States, Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan and Singapore. 

The rankings are drawn from a combination of hard data, publicly available for each of the economies studied, and the results of the executive opinion survey, a comprehensive assessment conducted by the World Economic Forum in the countries covered by the report. This year nearly 11,000 business leaders were polled in 117 economies.

Bringing up the rear were Paraguay at 113th, followed by Benin, Guyana, Kyrgyz Republic and Chad, last at 117th. 

International Monetary Fund has good words for Colombia's economy
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Colombia's economy is on the upswing, with the country's gross domestic product projected to rise by 4 percent in 2005, said the International Monetary Fund.

In a statement Tuesday, the fund said the Colombian government's strong economic policies are allowing the nation's economy to benefit from a favorable global economic environment.  The growing economy in Colombia, said the organization, is helping the country to reduce unemployment further, and inflation in 2005 is expected to remain at the nation's lowest level in decades.

The fund said Colombia's export sector has strengthened, benefiting from high world commodity prices, "robust growth" in nontraditional exports, and strong inflows of foreign direct investment. Colombia's improved fiscal position results from gains in tax administration, and from continued control over spending and the effects of higher oil prices, according to the organization.

Colombia's economic outlook for 2006 is favorable, the fund said, with "good prospects for sustained growth and declining inflation."  Fiscal policy is set to
remain "prudent," said the fund, with a combined public-sector deficit of no more than 2 percent of gross domestic product.

Colombian authorities already have implemented several key elements of a revised budget code and intend to implement as many of the remaining elements as possible through executive action, said the International Monetary Fund.

The organization added that the Colombian government intends to build political support for additional key medium-term economic reforms, such as strengthening tax policy, improving the system of revenue-sharing and reducing the extent of revenue-earmarking.

"These policies will help lay the foundation for continued growth" in Colombia, said the fund.

The Bush administration is touting a proposed U.S.-Andean free-trade agreement that it says will also improve Colombia's economy.  Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia would be included in the agreement. President Bush will meet with leaders of Andean countries at the Nov. 4 and 5 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina.  Among leaders there will be Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco.

Jesse Jackson says U.S. was behind the removal of Aristide in Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson says he regards deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the Caribbean nation's legitimate leader.

Jackson said Wednesday he has met with the exiled ex-Haitian president in South Africa and reported that Aristide, who was democratically elected twice, was removed from office by the United States. Aristide has lived in exile in South Africa since a popular uprising
forced his departure as president in early 2004.

He said U.S. forces kidnapped him and forced him to leave Haiti, but the United States says Aristide requested U.S. aid in leaving Haiti. Presidential elections are scheduled for December to replace a transitional government.

Wednesday, Jackson also met with former South African President Nelson Mandela to discuss the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa.

Colombian rebels deny that they planted bomb that almost got a senator
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

Colombia's largest rebel group has denied it was behind a recent bomb attack on a prominent senator.

The senator, German Vargas Lleras, was driving away from a radio station Oct. 10 in north Bogota when a bomb exploded. The senator was unharmed, but three of his bodyguards were injured.
Police blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for the attack. But in a statement issued Tuesday the rebels insisted they were not involved.

The senator is a staunch supporter of President Alvaro Uribe and the government campaign against the leftist rebels. Colombia has been mired in a decades-long guerrilla war that takes thousands of lives each year, and rebels finance their war with drug sales.

Jo Stuart
About us
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