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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 217                  E-mail us
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Local Brits will burn Guy Fawkes effigy Saturday in Jacó
Guy Fawkes waiting
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Guy awaits the flames that will reduce him to ashes
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Guy Fawkes is about to go up in flames for the 402nd time this weekend, and the Brits in Costa Rica have their lighters at the ready.
The infamous villain was one of a group of Catholic conspirators who plotted to blow up the British Houses of Parliament in 1605 while the protestant King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) was inside.

Known as the Gunpowder Plot, Brits around the world mark the historical event every year on or around Nov. 5, the actual date of the failed attempt. The British community in Costa Rica will gather on the beach at Jacó this weekend to set fire to a dummy version of Guy perched atop a bonfire.   The effigy burning will be followed by a fireworks display. The local event, organized by the British Embassy, takes place at Hotel Club del Mar on Saturday night.

In the United Kingdom Nov. 5 has become popularly known as Guy Falkes Night or Bonfire Night.

Full-blown La Niña in Pacific at work affecting world's climate
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The La Niña weather event is under way across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific and these conditions are expected to continue through the first quarter of 2008, according to the World Meteorological Organization.  The La Niña phenomenon alters global weather and climate patterns.

The Geneva-based organization said the sea-surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific are markedly colder than normal during a La Niña.  In contrast, it says El Niño events have warmer sea-surface temperatures in the same region.

Leslie Malone, a senior scientist in the World Climate Program, said the current La Niña is markedly different from most other such events in the past.  This, she says, is due to the presence of colder than normal sea surface waters across northern Australia surrounding west Indonesia islands through to the Indian Ocean.

Ms. Malone says La Niña also has a tendency to increase the number of storms in the tropical Atlantic because of changing atmospheric circulation patterns in both surface and upper atmospheric levels.

She said the northwestern United States and
western Canada are experiencing cooler and damper conditions than normal because of La Niña.

"El Niño and La Niña have a recurring pattern within a regular cycle of approximately two to seven years.  But, I must reinforce that no two situations are ever exactly the same."

Because of La Niña, Malone says Indonesia, Malaysia and Northern Australia can expect much more rain during the southern summer months and the Philippines can expect heavier rainfall in the northern summer.  She says dry conditions are likely to persist in many parts of Australia.

She says the devastating floods experienced between June and September in western and northern parts of the Greater Horn of Africa are also linked to La Niña.  She says countries such as the Sudan, Uganda, Western Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea have been subjected to unusually heavy rain and flash floods.

"This flooding has led to crop failures, to displacement of people and to very severe human distress in the region," she added.  "This is connected to both the La Niña situation that we are observing now in the Equatorial Pacific Basin and in the particular sea surface temperature conditions that we have noticed in the Indian Ocean Basin as well.  These things are working in conjunction."

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 217

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Big survey of 14,572 homes
says poverty has declined

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Each year the national statistical center conducts a survey of households. The results are important to politicians.

This year the Arias administration is trumpting the result that shows poverty dropped from 20.2 percent in 2006 to 16.7 percent in 2007. The survey was taken from July 9 to Aug. 10, about 14 months after President Óscar Arias Sánchez took office.

The Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos set the poverty line this year at 54,160 colons (about $104) per person per month in the urban zone compared to 47,086 in 2006, some $91.50 at the estimated rate of 515 colons per dollar then. The rural amounts were 43,261 (about $83) per person in 2007 versus 37,807 ($73.40) in 2006.

The survey to get this information was massive. The institute said that its 20 teams of surveyors conducted personal interviews with individuals in 14,572 households in some 79 sections of the country. Each team had a supervisor, a driver and three interviewers. They worked from July 9 to Aug. 10 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, according to the summary provided Wednesday.

That means each surveyor conducted nearly nine interviews a day for the 28 days of the survey.

The institute did not give a margin of error for its results, but with 14,572 respondents, the mathematical margin would be tiny.

The Arias administration also expressed pleasure at the survey result that showed the extreme poor declined from 5.3 to 3.3 percent. Unemployment also was reported down from 6 to 4.6 percent.

A lot of the fluctuation came from the north Pacific coast where the percentage in the poor category dropped from 34.4 to 25.1 percent. In the Pacific Central the percentage of the poor dropped from 26.3 to 20.8, according to the survey.

The survey, of course, does not interview the same people year to year, so the changes in poverty and unemployment could be the result of migration or other factors.

Pavas-based motor squad
planned to cover area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister plans to set up a Pavas-based flying squad with 50 patrol cars and 140 motorcycle policemen starting in December.

The special unit would respond 24 hours a day to locations where they are needed in the Central Valley, said the minister, Fernando Berrocal. He was speaking during a call-in Internet event with readers of La Nación. A transcript of the talk was released afterwards.

The special unit also would be on call for police actions in Desamparados, Curridabat, Guadalupe, Tibás, Pavas, Moravia, Hatillos, Alajuelita, Mata Redonda, as well as San José, the minister said. He added that 40 percent of the nation's population live in those areas.

The unit will be constructed from the purchase of 100 new patrol cars and 280 motorcycles that is expected to take place in about a month. The rest of the vehicles will go to other parts of the country, he said.

He said the current condition of crime in the country calls for a strong hand but with due regard to the rights of citizens. He also promoted his plan to put 400 surveillance cameras at key points in the country.

Berrocal and his Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública is the agency that contains the Fuerza Pública, the Dirección General de Migración and its immigration police, as well as the new tourism police.

The decline in citizen security is a hot political topic with much of the blame being directed at the slow and lax court system.

In fact, lawyers took a shot at the chief prosecutor in comments published Wednesday. They claimed that few crimes were punished.

That drew a response from Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz, the chief prosecutor. He said a few days ago that he wanted to be reappointed to his position. So the timing has political implications. The Corte Suprema de Justicia makes the decision.

Dall'Anese did not respond directly to a number of allegations but denied that he had instructed prosecutors to ignore robberies where the amount taken was less than $500.

The lawyers also accused the court and prosecutorial system of constructing a new building when employees do not have enough resources.

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Our readers' opinions
Property price increases are not always the fault of Gringos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The debate in Costa Rica will always continue re: the escalating prices of real estate in Costa Rica.   But let's set a few things straight:

1.  "Gringos" are not fueling the overall property price escalation in Costa Rica. Sure, maybe in the more affluent suburbs of Escazú and Santa Ana and maybe Ciudad Colón AND definitely in the more trending beach areas, but definitely not in San Carlos and many towns outside of the San José perimeter. 

2.  Have any of you been to the outlying towns such as Grecia, Puriscal, San Ramón and seen the progress there?  To say there is no building by locals is definitely false as it is locals that are leading the exodus from the San José area into these "safer" areas.   And of the new construction that you will see, the bulk of it is by Ticos.

3.  Because of the ingrained acceptance of a local inflation rate here in Costa Rica, Ticos will always put their savings into hard assets such as land because it will always stay ahead of inflation.   The reason that we don't see this fact as much any longer is because the U.S. dollar has shrunk right alongside the colon while prices continue to rise.  The dollar declining in value is eroding our purchasing power.

4.  The Stateside subprime mess will most likely affect the
exodus here.   But, instead of slowing it, I am seeing the
 people are simply buying a little less land and building smaller homes.   Face it, where in the States can you live comfortably for $2,000 per month and build a 1,200 square foot home with an acre of land for less than $100,000?   The influx of Gringos will definitely continue AND start to accelerate.

5.  The overdeveloped areas such as Escazú, Jacó, Tamarindo and Guanacaste that have been overbuilt are already being affected by the crisis in the States as leveraged funds were used to build and overexpand.   Prices are not rising here as a general rule and inventories are large, thus the next step is price reductions.

6.  If you think that prices are high in Costa Rica perhaps you should take a look at other retirement and vacation areas around the world, such as Spain, some Caribbean islands, portions of Panamá and Mexico and nearly all countries of Europe.   These are countries that are overpriced!
Face it, Costa Rica is changing, and it is those of us who live here that have to adapt.   And please believe that there is plenty of land where Gringos are NOT living that are not seeing price increases, and many of these areas are just as beautiful in their own way, as the beaches and rainforests.

Get used to change because it is inevitable. 
Randy Berg

They ended up staying in the States because of the realities of living here
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Ann Hench's comments on the future of Costa Rica's housing market are. in our case, prophetic.  My wife and I, accompanied by a close friend, traveled to Costa Rica last January with serious intentions to purchase property and build a vacation home in Costa Rica.  Our car was vandalized, and we lost all of our luggage, but that alone did not deter us from pursuing our goal.  After all, that can happen to anyone in any U.S. city.

But the more we learned about the culture, the lack of adequate policing, a barely functioning court system, the unregulated housing market and the greed and fraud that drives it, we began to reconsider the wisdom of purchasing property and building a vacation home in Costa Rica.  Our friend who acccompanied us was the first to decide not to pursue Costa Rica property any further.  She felt that as a single woman, Costa Rica simply does not offer the necessary level of security she would need to enjoy the time spent there. 

The inflated prices of property weren't the reason for her decision — things never got that far.  Personal security was her motivating issue.  My wife and I initially were prepared to pursue property purchase, but over time, we also decided that the realities of life in Costa Rica render a home vacant six to seven months a year impractical.  So we changed our minds and decided to abandon our search also.

Ann's predictions proved totally accurate in our cases.  Our friend recently purchased a three-bedroom home in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, six minutes from the beach, and we paid off our mortgage and remodeled and added a room to our home here in Indianapolis.  We will use Indianapolis as our home base after retirement and travel as much as we can, hopefully spending spring in South Carolina.
Costa Rica has much to offer in terms of scenic beauty and climate.  Costa Rica may not be so attractive to Americans who can avoid the adrenaline rush that accompanies seeing Costa Rica for the first time and can rationally evaluate the implications of living outside the U.S. 

One gentleman I corresponded with who lives in San José quoted a statistic indicating that a majority of U.S. expats return to the U.S. within a year of moving to Costa Rica.  I suspect that some are merely pampered Americans who won't be happy anywhere. Many have come to understand elemental realities of living under a different legal system and cultural values. 

Randy Berg, of C.R. Homes, to his credit, advises in his newsletter that Americans should visit Costa Rica more than once, get a feel for what life in Costa Rica is and isn't before making the decision to purchase property.  That is excellent advise but extremely hard to follow in the heat of the moment, overwhelmed by the exotic beauty of Costa Rica.

We will vacation in Costa Rica in the future, much wiser for having spent a little time there and having done a mountain of research.  But as Ann pointed out, a day of reckoning is ahead for the Costa Rica real estate market, and we don't want to be the ones who have to pay for the sins of others. 

For us, the "Vida" in Costa Rica isn't so "Pura!"  To the people of goodwill in Costa Rica, native and foreign, and there are many, our best wishes.  To the rest, who have spoiled a beautiful place, we hope you someday overcome your greed and realize the magitude of what you have done.

Jane and Sam Mobley
Indianapolis, Indiana   

Former Banco Nacional customer says bank is slow to react to obvious frauds
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In light of the recent banking articles that have appeared in your publication I felt the need to share my experiences with you.

I have been a full-time resident of Costa Rica for three years now and besides the odd charge here and there that were probably oversights by me, I have had a fairly uneventful banking experience. I currently have five accounts here with Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica and Promerica.

I am very protective over my banking information and normally only have my Banco Nacional debit MasterCard and my American Express with me. I pay for most things in cash and use my American Express for large purchases. All of my other bank cards and all of my personal information are either locked up in the safe in my house or in the safe at my office.

In July I noticed that there were charges in my Banco Nacional account that I did not recognize. I immediately knew it was fraud because the purchases were excessive and the transactions all occurred in Florida. After investigating the transactions further I realized that all of the transactions were point of sale transactions, meaning that someone was using a card with my number on it.

I immediately went to Banco Nacional in Quepos and informed them of the situation. The staff at Banco Nacional is very aware of who I am as I currently have three different projects that are financed through the bank as well as having two accounts with them.  After reviewing all of the charges and filling out a “reclamo” form, I was told someone would call me within 10 days, and if not, I should call the number on top of the copy of the “reclamo” form they had given me.

After this I destroyed the card for that account and ordered a new one. All of this occurred around the middle of July. After two weeks had passed, I decided to call the number and see if they had made any progress. At first I spoke with a woman and explained to her my situation and she informed me she was connecting me to the person that is in charge of these matters.

I spoke with a woman Marcela, who asked me for my name and account number. After leaving me on hold for 10 minutes, she told me that they had no form with my name on it. She asked me if I could send the form to her myself. At this point I copied my entire passport, my account records, and my financing documents and faxed them to her along with the “reclamo” form and a letter explaining that the charges were point of sale charges; that I hadn’t been to Florida in 20 years; that the copies of my passport would show that I hadn’t left Costa Rica or been in the United States for at least three months before the charges appeared and that I was a very good client of the banks.
I called Marcela to confirm that she had received the information, and she informed me that it would take approximately 30 days to resolve this issue and that someone would be in contact with me with any questions they had. This occurred on the 2nd of August. On Oct. 4 I called Marcela and informed her that no one had contacted me and asked her if there had been any progress on my
case. She repeatedly told me that if she needed anything she would call me. On Oct. 9 I discovered more charges on my account that also occurred in Florida and were point of sale charges as well.

I immediately destroyed the new card that I had. I went to the bank and ordered a new card. I filled out a new “reclamo” form and watched as they faxed it to San José. Later that day I called Marcela but her assistant told me she would have to call me back. The next day I called again and the assistant informed me that Marcela was looking into it and would call me if she had any questions. I told her my situation and explained to her my relationship with Banco Nacional but she would not put me through to Marcela.

I tried calling two more times but the assistant would not put me through to her. After the second time I asked for the number of Marcela’s supervisor and was given his information. I left three messages with the gentleman’s assistant but never received a call back.

On Oct. 15 I had a meeting with my financing representative from Banco Nacional about a project that we are looking to get financing for. After the meeting I drove with him to Banco Nacional in Quepos and asked to see the manager who knows me very well.

I sat in an office with them both and explained that if this situation was not resolved very soon that I would be severing all ties with the bank as well as re-financing my deals with Banco de Costa Rica. After assuring me that they would take care of everything I left the bank.

Later that day I received a call from Marcela, and she informed me that they were investigating the theft and were waiting on the merchants from the U.S. for receipts. I informed her I was very aware of the fraud process and that merchants only had a certain amount of time to produce the receipts or they would automatically be deemed liable and responsible for the charges.

She asked me to be patient for a few more days. I have not heard from anyone at her office since then despite leaving several messages.

To date the total charges amount to $16,147.67

I am currently re-financing my loans through other banks.

Phillip Christian
managing partner
Twin Palms Development S.A.

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U.S. House Ways and Means Committee approves Peruvian free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

A congressional committee has unanimously approved legislation to implement a free trade agreement with Peru, paving the way for consideration by the full House of Representatives next week. Eventual approval by Congress of the Peru accord, along with other pacts with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, has been one of President George Bush's priorities in advancing his trade agenda.

The United States and Peru signed the trade deal last year, and the White House sent an implementing measure to Congress under so-called fast-track rules requiring lawmakers to approve or reject negotiated accords.

Majority Democrats reached an agreement with the Bush administration earlier this year to strengthen labor and environmental standards in trade deals, a step aimed at improving prospects for passage of the president's agenda.

Wednesday's vote in the House Ways and Means Committee was 39 to zero, clearing the way for the full House to
consider the Peru pact. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel chairs the committee: "This was a record vote," said Rangel. "This was a historic vote, and we had every vote on the committee."

Congressional approval would lift tariffs on 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports and more than two thirds of U.S. agricultural exports to Peru, with remaining tariffs phased out in coming years.

Although the Senate plans to vote on the House version of the Peru agreement, other pending accords face obstacles.

An accord with Colombia faces an uphill battle amid opposition from Democrats and labor unions critical of Colombian government steps to deal with violence and prosecute those responsible for killings of labor leaders.

With Democratic leaders targeting Nov. 16 for concluding major legislative work for the year, the Peru accord is likely the last to be considered, leaving action on Panamá, Colombia or South Korea deals for 2008.

U.S. Fed cuts short-term interest rate again to stimulate stressed economy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, Wednesday cut short-term interest rates for the second time in as many months. The quarter-point cut was in line with financial market expectations.

The overnight lending rate came down 25 basis points (.25%) to 4.5 percent. It was the second rate cut this year and is intended to help the housing market, which has been severely impacted by the credit squeeze that briefly froze up global markets in August. The move is also aimed at shoring up an economy that is expected to slow down under the weight of sharp rises in energy costs. Oil prices have doubled in the past 24 months.
In its statement, the 12-member Fed policymaking group said the economy is balanced between higher inflation caused by oil prices and a housing-related slowdown. 

Earlier Wednesday, the government reported that the economy grew at a surprisingly robust 3.9 percent rate in the July to September quarter. 

With consumer confidence now declining, most economists expect the rate of growth will slow significantly during this current quarter.

Already, even before the Christmas buying season begins, big box retailers have been cutting prices in an effort to draw in reluctant shoppers.

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