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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 212        E-mail us
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Don't confuse these with Smith & Wesson
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is no shortage of illegal weapons in Costa Rica. Some are stolen. Others are just smuggled into the country.

But not everyone who wants a weapon can get one, so homemade guns frequently are found by police. Usually it is the younger set who fabricate the weapon from some pipes and spare metal parts. These used to be called zip guns in the United States in the 1950s when street gangs made improvised .22-caliber pistols from the metal tubing in radio antennas.

Not all the weapons are made with criminal intent. Some are fabricated for protection.

In the Costa Rican countryside, rural residents sometimes put together a device capable of firing shotgun shells for hunting. In the cities, the weapons tend to use smaller ammunition. The larger the ammunition, the heavier the improvised weapon.

The Fuerza Pública encountered a homemade gun at the Liceo del Sur in Barrio Cristo Rey Monday.  They said they were alerted by a telephone caller who said that two youths were involved with some kind of suspicious activity there. Police detained a 19 year old, identified by the last names of Alvarado Valverde. They said
zip gun
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo

This is the improvised firearm that was confiscated Monday by police.

he had possession of the illegal weapon. A companion went free.

Friday Fuerza Pública officers confiscated a homemade pistol that three youths were using to fire near the Centro Comercial del Sur, in Barrio Córdoba. And police also reported confiscating a homemade shotgun two weeks ago from a schoolboy in north San José.



Inept smuggler dumps his car and drugs into a ditch
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man with nearly 500 kilos of cocaine in his sports utility vehicle tried to slip into the metro area about 6 a.m. Monday, but he put his vehicle in a ditch as he tried to flee from police.

The man made no effort to hide his cargo. The back seat was pulled from the vehicle and packages of cocaine were stacked inside in clear view of the exterior windows. The man seems to have been counting on darkness to hide his cargo.

Investigators thought that the drugs came from one of those fastboats that had been found on the central Pacific coast recently. Smugglers frequently bring drugs from Colombia to the Pacific coast and
then take the drugs overland to the Central Valley where the illicit cargo is hidden in commercial
shipments headed north to the United States.

The man happened upon a police checkpoint between San Mateo and Atenas, officers said. Juan José Andrade, the regional director, said that officers saw the man accelerate the vehicle when he became aware of the police presence.

After the man ditched the vehicle, he fled into a wooded and mountainous area. The Fuerza Pública moved a number of officers to the area to search for the man and to check passing cars to make sure the driver was not sneaking out of the area in a vehicle. Atenas residents said they were surprised by the number of police who showed up.

The officers also called in the dog unit of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública to help in the search for the man.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 212

Costa Rica Expertise
Costa Rica Expertise Ltd http://crexpertise.com E-mail info@crexpertise.com Tel:506-256-8585 Fax:506-256-7575

Puriscal Properties
sportsmens update
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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.


Legal services

Burke Fiduciary, S.A.
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Thomas A. Burke, LL.M, Glenda Burke, LL.M
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We offer real estate law, due diligence and escrow services,residency status, business corporations, estate planning. English, Spanish, German and French spoken.
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The registration of Burke Fiduciary S.A., corporate ID 3-101-501917 with the
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Persons contracting its services do so for their own account and at their own risk.
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Tel: (323) 255-6116
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Physicians and surgeons

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Dr. Mora
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Available for surgery in any of the private hospitals in San José.
                
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4401-6/9/09v


Heredia train 2, cars 0
in crossing roulette


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economy is a little slow now, but the best business has to be body and fender repair.  Another vehicle fell victim to the San José-Heredia train Monday night in Calle Blancos. This follows on the heels of another collision Friday in Barrio Otoya.

There were no serious injuries in either crash, and there certainly was no serious damage to the trains that hit the cars.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarrilles still has made little effort to provide safety at rail crossings. The trains continue to blow their horns as they approach the intersections, but this aggravates the neighbors.

The afternoon crash Friday took place where the driver has a clear view of the track in both directions for several hundred feet. Motorists continue to show hesitation as they reach the crossings. Some slow to a crawl, drive onto the track and then speed away as a train comes by. 

Our readers' opinions
Consumer commission
fails to provide justice

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was surprised to read that Garland Baker would allow, with any legitimacy, the comment “The Web site [of the consumer commission] states that resolutions may take from 30 days up to two months” while he knows firsthand that this comment is a joke.  It hardly changes the “customer service landscape in Costa Rica” when a negligent company — one that charged for the repair of a roof with a one-year guarantee — failed to honor that guarantee and snubbed its nose at a hearing called at the very consumer agency that is supposed to “penalize” companies.  It’s been close to a year and a half now and nothing has been resolved.

At a special “hearing,” both my husband and I as well as our attorney and a translator appeared, but the other side failed to attend.  The “judge” put on a really stern face, checked paperwork to be certain the other party had been “served notice” to appear, found that they had been correctly served, and simply didn’t bother appearing to defend themselves.  That was more than six months ago. Still nothing.  We signed more papers at the order of the “judge” who proclaimed disgust at the other party and a promise that she would come down hard at the injustice.  Perhaps it was just “injustice” that they did not attend her “court” and not “injustice” to us, the victim.

My suggestion to anyone who employs a contractor without first asking for and verifying references of customers is to laugh at the word “guarantee.”  In Costa Rica, it turns out to be the biggest joke ever! 

We used a firm without checking its credentials because we had a good experience with it in the past but subsequently learned the previous owner, who was an honorable businessman, had sold out to another party the year before and we were now dealing with new ownership, unbeknownst to us.  The new ownership does not have the same honorable business practices and, because of this, we sustained hundreds of dollars in damages and probably the company will receive a slap on the wrist at most . . . maybe in our lifetime.  Again, maybe not.
Mary Jay
Alajuela

Reunion with The Mouse
draws family's thanks

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
I hope this small letter finds its way into A.M. Costa Rica especially after Garland Baker's powerful op-ed piece which is sure to attract a lot of attention. The Mouse sincerely thanks Margaret Sohn who sent up the beautiful flag that Mouse was still alive after nine months. We did grieve for the little guy almost daily. Along with Ms. Sohn, the gracious and good office of Dr. Bitter and the veterinarian who took Mouse under her personal care for so much time, Dra. Jessica Jimenez.

Mouse was adopted in Heredia, he lived with us over two years and on January 26th, about 11 a.m. he left not to be seen until Oct. 23, 2009.
 
In addition to him biting on an electric wire, local rumor says that a group of kids abused him. He escaped, was disoriented and these three good Samaritans saved him. He is not as agile as before, wants to be around people more and while not as handsome, he is far more beautiful than ever.
 
It is adjustment time and re-introducing The Mouse to his family, the house and most of all his older sister, Cali California.
 
In addition to thanking all of those mentioned, we also thank and are extremely grateful to you, A.M. Costa Rica for publishing the photo. Thanks to all,
Magaly & John Holtz
Santa Ana

Experience with Defensoría
cost more than it was worth


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Garland Baker mentioned the Defensoria de los Habitantes in his article about customer service in Costa Rica. Forget about it! This agency is hopelessly swamped with complaints, and its own practices and policies exemplify lousy customer service.

A month after I moved to Costa Rica I filed a claim against a crooked San José importer who had held my container hostage until I paid him double the amount agreed to in our contract to recover my belongings. It took TWO YEARS just to get a preliminary hearing and another six months to get the sleazy Cuban manager of the import firm into a real hearing.

I won, but it meant nothing. He was ordered to pay me the amount of the overcharge. He ignored the order and nothing ever came of his defiance because there aren't any "teeth" in the Defensoria's decisions.

What's worse, the Defensoria's rules don't allow those making complaints to add in the cost of their legal fees to the claims they're making, and as Garland mentioned, no one can file a complaint with this agency without a lawyer. (However, the manager of the import firm showed up on his own without legal representation.) This ridiculous policy insures that for many if not most folks who have complaints, their reimbursement will be significantly less than the amount they've claimed, if it comes at all. And if the amount of the rip-off is large enough to justify the legal expenses, most lawyers will advise clients to file criminal complaints rather than making a claim in the Defensoria.

In my case, the amount of my claim wasn't large enough to justify a criminal complaint, and even though I knew my legal fees would be at least equal to the award I was seeking, I went after the guy just because he offended me so deeply. He had the Ten Commandments nailed to the wall outside his office door and said "God bless you" after every sentence. Yet he held the container holding everything I owned in the world until I paid a "ransom," A classic dirtbag. Had I pursued the issue after he ignored the Defensoria's decision, I would have ended up paying more than double the amount I was seeking in the claim to my lawyer.

The net effect creates an environment similar to the "no penalty" zone awarded to thieves by the police who refuse to pursue theft cases involving stolen property worth less than $500. Crooked businesses know that so long as they don't rip off their customers for more than a couple of thousand dollars, the odds are virtually zero that they'll ever be brought to justice.

After six years of doing business in an atmosphere best described as a never ending HAZING, I've learned that ranting and raving about slights, slaps and sleaze, while emotionally satisfying, rarely produces anything positive. Instead I've created a reputation for myself as a person who is short tempered, confrontational and difficult to do business with. I've yet to find an "internal balance" between assertiveness and effective business strategy. I may never get it right.

What I have gained in the process is a deeper appreciation for those business people who go out of their way to provide solid, honest service and who will bend over backwards to rectify any mistakes or shortcomings in their services. I always make it a point to let them know how much I appreciate them.
Dean Barbour
Manuel Antonio   

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 212

Contraloría says maritime zone management is weak
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría General de la República is called for changes in the way the tourism institute and the Dirección de Urbanismo approve and supervise concessions in the Pacific maritime zone.

The Contraloria's Área de Servicios Municipales reported on a study that it had done and said that the maritime zone developments lacked criteria for planning and that it is necessary to propose additional procedures of planning and organization so that development in the coastal zones are sustainable and complement the country's vision.

The summary of the report said that the Contraloría found weak and deficient municipal management in planning and organization and local governments need a structure to implement the local zoning plans in the maritime zone.

The Contraloría said that the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo should devise an action plan to strengthen the process of approving and putting in force the zoning plan, called plan regulador, for the various coastal area.

At the same time the Contraloría called on the Instituto
Geográfico National to devise short-, medium- and long-range plans to install boundary markers throughout the coastal zone based on existing law.

The agency also said that the municipalities should also devise short-, medium- and long-range plans to link the coastal zoning to municipal development and the investment of resources.

The maritime zones are those areas along the coast where the tourism institute and the local municipality grant concessions for use. The law forbids ownership, except in a few cases, of the land within 200 meters of mean high tide. The first 50 meters from the tide line is highly restricted and considered public property.

Hotels, developers and homeowners have been granted concessions for the remaining 150 meters. The process is long and filled with paperwork. But it is hardly uniform. The Contraloría said that the fees paid by those who occupy the maritime zone should be invested for the betterment of the local citizenry.

The Contraloría did not release a full report yet, only a summary.


Transport minister quits taking blame for bridge mishap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Karla González, the transport minister, resigned Monday, the first political victim of the fatal bus crash at the Turrubares-Orotina bridge.

The 44-year-old lawyer has been in the job since the beginning of the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration in 2006. By quitting she took a lot of heat off the president. Opposition political parties had called for her removal, and, although Arias defended her, it was clear that she was vulnerable.

Her agency is in charge of the roads and bridges. Arias and others in the administration are trying to place the blame on a bus driver who ignored bridge weight limits, and a transportation company that used a much heavier vehicle without approval.  Still, many other vehicles have been using the bridge, and there has been no effort by Tránsito officers to stop them until the fatal mishap.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said Monday that it was not their truck that was seen bumping into key parts of the bridge. Officials think that the 85-year-old structure had been compromised the day before the bus trundled onto the rickety plank bridge deck.

Local officials have been calling on the central government to do something about the narrow suspension bridge for years.
Ms. González met briefly with the president Monday. She made her decision public at a press conference called to talk about the installation of a new bridge at the site of the fatal bridge collapse.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados expressed its delight at the resignation. The secretary general, Albino Vargas Barrantes, posted a notice saying that on the union's Web site. The union does not favor Ms. González because she has been the spearpoint of the administration's efforts to award concessions for various public works. Concessions have been awarded for both Juan Santamaría and Daniel Oduber airports and the San José Caldera highway. Others are in the works.

Ms. González also gets the blame from the union for the mandatory traffic inspections although that was approved before she took office.

For the same reasons Ms. González is held in high regard in some business circles.

Bridges have been troublesome in her administration of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. An expansion joint on the Juan Pablo XXIII bridge and another on the Autopista General Cañas bridge over the Río Tiribi resisted repairs. And now metal from another joint is sticking up on the Autopista Florencio del Castillo between San José and Cartago. That will cause traffic to be slow during the morning rush hour.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 212

   
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Enjoy Incredible Beach Sunsets and  Sunrises. With the Pacific Ocean on the awesome mountain behind.
Elegantly built to your specifications. Delivered and set up at your home in Costa Rica.
  


Costa Rica gets good marks on quality of life, prosperity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has been ranked 32nd of 104 countries in the third edition of the Legatum Prosperity Index.

The country ranks higher than any other Latin nation. Uruguay, the next highest, is 33rd.

The rankings are put together by the Legatum Institute with the help of Oxford Analytica and a panel of experts in economics, development, history, sociology and science. The index basically tries to measure the quality of life.

In a press release the institute said that Costa Rica got such a good ranking because it scored high in innovation. The institute said that the country created nearly 4,000 new businesses in 2007.

Legatum says on its Web site that it is an international investment group whose mission is to create a legacy of enduring significance in the global capital markets, while applying the same principles of effective capital allocation to promote sustainable human development. Legatum means legacy or gift, it notes.

The results of the firm's study were reported by a press release. The data was posted to a separate Web site.

In South America Chile ranked 36 after Uruguay and Argentina was 38. The lowest rankings in the region went to Ecuador at 71, Bolivia at 73 and Venezuela at 74. That was a big jump for Venezuela which was rated 101 the year before.

"In South America the countries with the highest ratings in democratic institutions and personal liberty in general get a good total score in prosperity," said Willaim Inboden, senior vice president of the institute. "In the same way nations that have low levels of internal security and protection, such as Venezuela, are found much lower in the general classification."

Finland headed the general classification followed by Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, the United States, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany.

On the other end of the scale was Yemen at 102, Sudan at 103 and Zimbabwe at 104.

Of Costa Rica and its economic fundamentals, the institute says, based on 2007 figures: 

Costa Rica has a high inflation rate of 9 percent as well as an above average unemployment rate of 5 percent. Costa Rican workers have access to a lower than average amount of physical capital, such as office space, factories, and machinery, limiting their production capacity. Costa Rica’s export revenues are low relative to the cost of imports, ranking the country in the bottom quartile on this variable. With a wide lending and borrowing margin, the Costa Rican banking sector displays low levels of competition
and efficiency. However, lending seems strongly regulated as only 1.2 percent of all loans defaulted in 2007, ranking Costa Rica 20th on this variable. Costa Rica enjoys a high level of foreign direct investment equalling 7 percent of GDP, indicating that it is attractive to foreign investors. At 23 percent of GDP, household expenditure is below average, while a domestic savings rate equivalent to 25 percent of GDP seems moderately strong, ranking Costa Rica 62nd, internationally. Costa Rica does not show symptoms of over-reliance on revenues from raw materials exports, with a concentration level of less than 10 per cent.

The institute ranked the country 55 in this category.

Of this country's democratic institutions, the institute said:

Costa Ricans have very high levels of political and civil liberties, but their rights to participate in political processes and to express their opinions and affiliations are limited. Despite this, the country’s political system is characterized by high levels of open political competition amongst multiple parties for appointments at both executive and legislative levels. However, once in power there are few political checks and balances in place to prevent actors from changing legislation arbitrarily. The judicial system is independent from the other branches of government, preventing interference in the legal processes from this source. The current governmental system has been in place for over 80 years, ranking Costa Rica eighth on this measure of political stability.

It ranked Costa Rica 28th in this category.

In all, Costa Rica was ranked second in the hemisphere after Canada and the United States.

Of innovation and entrepreneurship, the institute said:

With approximately 23 personal computers per 100 people, and 67 secure Internet servers per million people, a significant share of the Costa Rican population has access to a moderately fast and secure Internet connection. The country has also managed to achieve impressive ICT exports equivalent to around 29 percent of total exports, and high-tech exports equalling 45 percent of manufactured exports, placing the Costa Ricans in the top 10 on both these indices and pushing up their overall ranking for this sub-index. Value added in the service industry also stands above average at 62 percent of GDP, indicating a fairly strong, service economy. However, with 11 procedures required to set up a business, barriers to entry are well above the global average and may have deterred some entrepreneurs, as only 3,933 new businesses registered in 2007, ranking Costa Rica below the international median. Royalty receipts are also low, meaning that Costa Ricans’ ability to capitalize on their intellectual property is limited. Expenditure on R&D is below the international average at only 0.3 percent of GDP.

The nation was ranked 33rd in this category. The bulk of the exports, although not mentioned by the Institute, were from Intel Corp. and its associates.


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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 212

Casa Alfi Hotel

U.S. rejects Muslim efforts
on religious defamation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department's annual report on world-wide religious freedom, released Monday, was critical of what it says are international efforts to limit free speech in the name of combating defamation of religion. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has been pushing such anti-defamation measures in U.N. bodies. 

The State Department report says the United States deplores actions that show disrespect for religious traditions, including Islam.

But it says the broad anti-defamation measures being sought by the Islamic Conference would have the effect of curbing debate about religious issues and should be discarded in favor of outreach and government defense of religious freedom and free speech.

The comments were the most prominent to date by the United States on efforts led by the conference to get anti-defamation resolutions approved in the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

In comments introducing the annual report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States will always stand against religious-based discrimination and persecution, but that it strongly disagrees with those who would combat such problems by curbing free speech.

"The best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religions approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and a vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression," said Secretary Clinton.

The Congressionally-mandate report covering 189 countries and territories includes sharp criticism of the record on religious issues by countries also listed by the United States as major human rights violators, including Iran and North Korea.

Castro's sister reveals
her work for the U.S. CIA


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Juanita Castro, sister of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, says she collaborated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency against her brother's rule in the 1960s. 

She made the revelation to a Spanish-language television channel Univision-Noticias 23 in Florida Sunday in a report on her newly published memoirs.  Her memoirs, "Fidel and Raul, My Brothers: The Secret History," hit bookstore shelves Monday. 

Ms. Castro explained that, while she initially supported her brother's 1959 overthrow of the Batista dictatorship, she became disillusioned with the executions of political opponents and Cuba's move toward communism. 

Ms. Castro, now 76, said she was approached by the CIA in the early 1960s. She said she used her home in Havana to shelter those persecuted by her brother's government before she went into exile. 

Ms. Castro fled Cuba for Mexico in 1964 and eventually settled in Florida. She ran a pharmacy in Miami and was a vocal critic of her brother's rule. 

After nearly five decades in power, Fidel Castro transferred power on a provisional basis to his brother Raul in 2006. Raul officially became president in February 2008. 
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 212


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Internet governors ready
to OK non-Latin addresses


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Internet is set to undergo one of the biggest changes in its 40-year history with the expected approval this week of a new, multilingual Internet address system.

The international group that regulates the Internet says it is likely to authorize the use of script from languages such as Arabic, Korean and Japanese for an entire Internet address for the first time.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, currently allows the use of non-Latin characters for only part of a Web site's address.

The Internete Corporation's full board is expected to approve the change Friday, at the end of a week-long meeting in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

The Internete Corporation's president, Rod Beckstrom, says the change will make the Internet more accessible to people whose languages are not written with Latin-based script. He says these people account for more than half of the world's estimated 1.6 billion Internet users.

Board Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush says the new, multilingual address system would represent the biggest change to the Internet technically since it was invented 40 years ago. The Internet's roots are traced to experiments at a U.S. university in 1969.

Beckstrom says that if the change is approved, the first Web sites with full addresses in non-Latin characters likely would appear in the middle of 2010.

The Internete Corporation is a non-profit organization based in the western U.S. city of Marina del Ray, California.


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