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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 218       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Administration publishes comprehensive document
New immigration draft would require more income

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration has come up with a rewrite of its proposed immigration law that jacks up financial requirements for pensionados to $2,000 a month and for rentistas to $5,000.

Pensionados now must show a monthly income of at least $600. Rentistas must show a continuing income of at least $1,000 a month.

The law also appears to say that, if passed, pensionados and rentistias will be required to meet the new, higher requirements when they renew their permission to stay in the country.

The proposed law, which the legislature published in the La Gaceta official newspaper last week, also would require that all foreigners, whatever their status, temporary or permanent, would have to join the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. That agency provides medical care and other services, but many expats already have medical coverage.

Tourists would not be required to join the Caja, and the proposed law is silent on so-called perpetual tourists, who live in Costa Rica and circumvent the spirit of the tourism category by leaving the country every 90 days. The law also is silent on the category of inversionista except to list it as one of the temporary classes of residency.

The law also established fines for those who employ illegal residents, including tourists who do not have the right to work here.  Fines can range over 600,000 colons (about $1,090) for every illegal employee.

The immigration department would have six months instead of the current three months to process residency applications.

The tone of the law has changed from a simple summary of immigration rules to what the preface calls a judicial instrument against criminality and corruption in immigration.

For expats, the news will be troubling. Javier Zavaleta of Residency in Costa Rica noted that the $2,000 a month requirement is near the top of what U.S. citizens could get as Social Security payments. Many U.S. citizens use their Social Security income to show they have the finances to live here as a pensionado. The U.S. Embassy staff also has produced Social Security documents that the immigration department accepts.

Zavaleta, who brought the changes to the attention of A.M. Costa Rica, said he would be posting a summary to his Web site. He said he was bracing for a flood of applicants who wanted to take advantage of the existing law in case the proposal is passed.

"I think the proposed income requirements for the pensionado and rentista programs are outrageously high," Zavaleta said, "and that they will only serve to drive away those individuals and families who are considering Costa Rica as their retirement destination. I can’t imagine how the Asamblea arrived at those amounts. It’s very disappointing."

The current rentista regulation says an applicant in that category must have a continual monthly income of at least $1,000. Informally the immigration department accepts proof that an applicant has $60,000 in a bank.

If the proposal is passed and immigration officials insist on proof of five years of income, an applicant would have to show a bank deposit of $300,000 or an investment generating at least $5,000 a month. An applicant would need to have about $1.7 million in savings at the current rates

Monthy income requirements


of return to show a continual income of $5,000 a month.

The country has been plagued by fake marriages contracted by powers of attorney with willing Costa Ricans, most of whom received pay for agreeing to the scam. The proposed law provides that a foreigner seeking to gain residency here with a marriage to a Costa Rican has to show that the union has been consummated. In addition, the proposed law spells out year-to-year requirements that the couple stays together. The foreign spouse could get residency only after three years.

For tourists who overstay their visas, the proposal law would assess $100 for each month in excess of the legal period. Another section, speaking about those who overstay their visa period in general,  specifies a fine of $25 per month but the individual would not be able to return to the country for three times the period of illegality. Legal tourists would be able to extend their stay here for 90 days more by paying $100, the proposal says.

The proposal also lengthens the time someone staying here legally as a temporary resident, pensionado, rentista or inversionista, could seek permanent residency from the current three years to five.

The measure is in the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración. If passed, the law would update one passed in 2005 during the Abel Pacheco administration.  The Arias administration was critical of the 2005 law and called in draconian.

So shortly after taking office, President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his ministers drafted a new proposal that was supposed to be more observant of human rights. Among other objections, the Catholic bishops expressed concern that those running refugees for illegal immigrants would face legal action. The proposed law exempts from prosecution those sheltering illegals for humanitarian reasons. But ordinary hotel owners could be punished for housing illegals.

The preamble said that this new proposal comes after more than 800 hours of discussions among officials, the Defensoría de los Habitantes, human rights groups, non-governmental organizations, the state universities, employers, and others.

The new draft gives more authority to the director general de Migración y Extranjería. The Consejo de Migración is reduced to an advisory body. That group had trouble meeting because funds were not available to pay per diems for members. The consejo used to decide on residency applications.

The draft would award 7 billion colons (about $13 million) to restructure the agency to carry out the new law.  The proposal also includes a 5 percent raise for immigration employees, except for the director and the subdirector.

The draft is highly detailed, although it does give power to draw up regulations to address specific points. It contains 274 separate sections. As in previous drafts, the immigration police would be raised to the level of the Fuerza Pública but report to the immigration director.

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Gasoline prices reduced
slightly by regulator

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos is cutting gasoline prices 35 colons a liter for super, 43 colons a liter for plus and 41 colons a liter for diesel, the agency said Friday.

The cut is not based on the plunging price of petroleum on the world market but because the Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo government monopoly overestimated the effect on prices attributable to Hurricane Ike, which raged north in mid-September, the agency said.

Botched bus stickup
puts three men in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men tried to hold up an Alajuela bus driver in his bus Saturday night but someone, perhaps a passenger, called police. Officers surrounded the bus not far from Alajuela centro and forced the men to surrender.

One man had a knife he used to threaten the driver, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. They were identified by the last names of Espinoza, González and Mendoza. Two of the men are prohibited from entering Costa Rica, and all three were illegally in the country, officials said.They were turned over to immigration officials.

This was at least the fourth bus stickup in eight days. In the three other cases, bandits used guns, and one passenger died when he pulled his own gun Oct. 24.

Speedy court process lets
two robbers go rapidly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two more robbers have received the benefit of conditional liberty after being convicted in the new Juicio de Flagrancia. But in a traditional court two robbers got seven years each.

In the first case a man with the last name of Ortega Pereira was found guilty of ripping a gold chain from the neck of a woman in San José centro Oct. 8. The woman was walking with her mother with the goal of getting on a bus to return to their home in San Rafael de Heredia. The woman, identified by the last name of Salas, did not react, but her mother did and grabbed the necklace back from the robber.  As the two scuffled, police arrived and captured the robber as he tried to escape. Ortega got two years but went free under conditional execution of the sentence.

The second case involved a man with the last names of  Acosta Naranjo. He followed a man who had just taken money from an automatic teller Oct. 23 and grabbed the wallet of the man as the victim walked in the public street. Acosta had the bad planning to do so in the vicinity of the San José court complex, and a vehicle containing Judicial Investigating Organization robbery agents that was passing by chased him some 600 meters. The agents captured him with the wallet still in his hand, court officials said. He received a year and nine months with conditional execution.

The flagrancia court was set up to handle criminals caught red-handed.

In the Tribunal Penal de Desamparados two men, identified by the last names of Espinoza Cascante and López Mendoza got seven years each last week for robbing a woman bus passenger Sept. 16, 2006, by threatening to cut the throat of her daughter, 6.  The crime happened in San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados. The men were caught when the victim drove around the area with Fuerza Pública officers and spotted her assailants. All three cases involved the crime of aggravated robbery.

20-year term upheld
in murder of expat here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 20-year prison term has been upheld against a murderer who stabbed an American citizen to death in his Pavas apartment. The Sala III confirmed the sentence that was handed down by a panel in the Tribunal de Juicio de San José last Dec. 18.

The Costa Rican killer, a man with the surnames Jiménez Avendaño, was found guilty of the aggravated robbery and homicide of Mark Judson Watkins, a 58-year-old retiree who came to Costa Rica from Florida.

Watkins was found dead in his apartment in Rohmoser, Pavas, on the morning of Sept. 21, 2006, by his driver. He was lying on his sofa bed partially clothed, and had suffered three stab wounds to the body, investigators said at the time.
Investigations established robbery as the motive.

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You cannot visit Parque Nacional Tortuguero without seeing at least one of these creatures.
Criminal pressure increasing at famed turtle breeding spot
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Parque Nacional Tortuguero, a breeding ground for four species of turtle, receives about 75,000 visits from the creatures each year. However, the park lacks the security needed to face threats from poachers and narcotraffickers operating in the area, according to the manager.

The park manager, Eduardo Chamorro, said that narcotraffickers have recently begun fishing for turtles, using the activity as a mask for illegal drug trafficking.

“The dealer is fishing for turtles, because if the police arrest these people, they can say that they are fishing and not trafficking drugs,” said Chamorro.

He added that the criminal sentence for illegal fishing is less severe than the sentence for international drug trafficking, which may explain why narcotraffickers have chosen this particular activity as a front.

The park also lacks sufficient rangers to patrol the reserve. Chamorro said that the park only has 13 rangers for the entire area. They work in rotating shifts, and are never all on duty at the same time.

“Some times I send the mountain rangers to the beach, because I haven't the workers to protect the turtles from hunters,” he said.

The park currently has several security measures in place for protecting the turtles from outside threats. One park ranger is on duty at night, monitoring turtles on the beach, while another park ranger is at the reserve's main station where tourists stay.

Chamorro added that the park also lacks sufficient equipment to deal with threats from poachers, who often come as far away as Limón, Guápiles and Cariari in order to hunt and kill the animals. The park is in northeast Costa Rica on the Caribbean.
Tourist go by boat
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
The traditional way of arriving to Parque Nacional Tortuguero is by boat on the Tortuguero canal.

“We need a real boat to patrol the sea and river, because hunters enter from this place,” he said. “The situation in this zone is too serious for the poor equipment that we have.”

Between June and October is the high season for turtle breeding at Tortuguero.

The four species make yearly visits to the beach to lay their eggs in the volcanic sand, included are the 1,700 pound leatherback turtle, the biggest in the world, the endangered Carey turtle, the loggerhead turtle and the green turtle. A single turtle will visit the beach about four or five times each breeding season. 

According to Chamorro, regardless of threats from poachers and fishers, the number of turtles in the zone has grown since 1975, when the government created the park. Yearly growth is monitored by the University of Florida.

Chamorro says he expects this year will see more tourist activity than 2007, which saw 132,000 visits from tourists.

Crime technicians will take a close look at suspect's vehicle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Crime technicians will be doing a detailed study of a white Hyundai Accent today,

The car is believed to be the one used in the abduction and shooting of three casino workers in Escazú Tuesday.

The car turned up at the home of a relative of one of the two men detained Friday.

The two men were nabbed in three raids by the Judicial Investigating Organization and are now in preventative detention while the case is built against them.

Jorge Rojas, in a news conference Friday night, asked for the help of the public in finding the car, which is considered one of the keys to the investigation.
The relative, who lives in Barranca, Puntarenas, told agents that he was holding the car because he was told it had a mechanical problem. The suspects live in Pavas. The car came to Heredia, the location of the crime lab, over the weekend.

The three women were driven around in a white vehicle while the bandits made one withdraw money from an automatic teller. Eventually they made each woman kneel and shot her in the head.  Two survived, but Yerlín Marín Salazar, 24, a mother of a 6-year-old child, died. The two survivors gave police valuable information including details on the car. Crime technicians can expect to find fingerprints of the women and perhaps other evidence that they were in the car.

More Information can be found in the updated Friday newspaper.

Prosecutor in Calderón trial to bring in 277 persons to testify
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier that opens today will be a long-running show in the Spanish-language news outlets.

The Poder Judicial said there are 277 witnesses who will be heard in the corruption case against Calderón and seven other persons. The prosecutor's file is more than 8,000 pages in 17 volumes. The accusation alone runs to 288 pages, said the Poder Judicial.

The three-judge panel with one alternate will hear the case in the Tribunales del II Circuito Judicial de San José in Goicoechea. The courtroom only holds 100 person, and the Poder Judicial has been working all last week to accommodate the many news outlets and their equipment.

The case is a bonanza for lawyers. 26 are involved in the case. Three are prosecutors, four represent the Procuraduría de la República, and four represent the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The rest represent the defendants or entities that were dragged into the case.
The allegation is that Calderón shared in a $9 million commission in handling a transaction that resulted in the acceptance of a $39 million loan so the Caja could purchase medical equipment from a supply firm in Finland. The case is called Caso Fischel because the Corporación Fischel  figures so prominently in it.

Much of the equipment was not needed, the Caja has said.

Expats will recognize the name of José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, who will be representing one of the defendants.

He was the lawyer for the United Concerned Citizens & Residents, a group established to prove the innocence of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, who is a fugitive on fraud charges linked to the collapse of his billion dollar high-interest borrowing operation. His brother, Oswaldo Villalobos, was convicted of fraud.

Villalobos Umaña benefited from the more than $100,000 that United Concerned Citizens raised from fraud victims in an attempt to clear Enrique Villalobos so he could return to Costa Rica and pay off the creditors.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 218

Unhappy with bus delay, jailed illegals ignite their cell
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a fiery protest, four Nicaraguans torched a pile of mattresses at the center for illegal immigrants in Hatillo, San José, Friday.

The immigration center was temporarily filled with black smoke until several office clerks managed to douse the blazing mattresses with fire extinguishers, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, which includes the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The four nicaraguans had been detained several weeks ago for living illegally in Costa Rica, the ministry said..

They were due to return to Nicaragua Friday morning on an early morning bus from the immigration center to Peñas Blancas. However, the bus failed to appear, due to what a ministry representative said was an unexpected delay in Heredia.

At 7 a.m., the group of Nicaraguans removed several mattresses from the migration center's dormitory where at least 15 other immigrants were staying at the time.

They dumped the mattresses in the central patio and set them alight in protest against the missing bus, the ministry representative said.

The Fuerza Pública was quickly called to the scene, as well as a group of paramedics, who examined witnesses for possible damage from the smoke.

Migration officials asked the Fuerza Pública to hold the four Nicaraguans at a police station. Police officers performed a routine search on the protestors, and found that one of them was carrying a toothbrush that had been
arrest in hatillo
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo

Fuerza Públic officer handcuffs one of the men involved in the fire Friday while a second sits in van.

filed sharp enough to be considered a possible weapon.

At 3 p.m. that same day the group took a bus from San José to the Nicaraguan border.

Lawmakers worry about constitutionality of putting geothermal plants in parks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers have rejected a proposal that would have allowed national parks to develop geothermal energy. Lawmakers said the initiative was unconstitutional because it would inadvertently damage the environment.

The proposal would have given the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad the authority to allow parks to build geothermal power plants in places where hot water or magma is active beneath the earth's surface. Presumably, this would have included popular tourist hotspots.

Geothermal energy uses various technologies such as underground pumps and pipes in order to use the earth's natural heat to run electricity plants. It is considered a sustainable energy option, primarily because it needs no fuel and because it is unaffected by weather conditions above ground. 

The Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones said that the proposal clashed with the national constitution,
which says the state has a responsibility to protect and preserve national parks. The proposal in its current form would have allowed geothermal power plants to be developed anywhere in a national reserve, which lawmakers argued would ultimately damage the fragile ecosystems.

In a statement from the nation's lawyer, the Procuraduría General de la República implied that since the current proposal did not clearly limit geothermal development to specific boundaries, the initiative could not be considered legal.

Lawmaker Maureen Ballestero said that while it is important the country's population does not suffer due to an energy crisis, despite the initiative's intention to provide clean energy, it still was necessary to preserve the national parks.

Geothermal power currently makes up 13 percent of Costa Rica's alternative energy technologies, with hydroelectric power at 76 percent, wind energy at 3 percent and other forms of alternative energy at 7 percent.

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A.M. Costa Rica
users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

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Iberoamerican summit ducks
creating global crisis plan

By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

The two-day XVII Iberoamerican summit wrapped up with the 22 nations that attended failing to create a comprehensive plan for confronting the global financial crisis.

President Oscar Arias Sánchez, who attended the summit with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, said that economic problems were addressed only marginally, despite promises from many heads of state to focus on the impending global recession.

Rather than directly discussing specific strategies to deal with the recession, Arias gave a speech arguing in favor of investing in education over the military, going along with the summit's official theme, “Youth and Development.”

Likewise, a summary of the summit's decisions, entitled the Declaration of San Salvador, scarcely mentioned the global economy. Instead, the declaration outlined approval for several transnational initiatives, supporting programs intended to reduce violence among youth. The declaration also stated its support for youth education programs, such as business training, sex education and more education in the telecommunications industry.

Last year's Iberoamerican summit in Santiago, Chile, notoriously saw a dramatic moment when King Juan Carlos I of Spain asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to shut up. The outburst came after Chavez called Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar a fascist, adding that snakes were more human than fascists.

Such drama was missing this year, as Chavez declined to attend the summit.

Dall'Anese to speak at forum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fiscal general, Francisco Dall'Anese, will speak on Costa Rica's security problems Tuesday, in a forum that is widely expected to address fears about the nation's rising crime rates.

Speaking at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia at 2 p.m., Dall'Anese will be joined by Jorge Vargas Cullel of the Estado de la Nación project and Daniel Calderón, director of the national police academy. The forum will be moderated by the university's rector, Rodrigo Arias Camacho.

Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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