A.M. Costa Rica
Your daily English-language news source
Monday through Friday
Place your free classified ad

Click Here
Jo Stuart
About us
These stories first were published Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001
Costa Rica's lottery going electronic with help of Banco Nacional
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The folks who bring you the many lottery and chance tickets are going electronic Thursday. This had been announced before, but the details were not clear until a meeting earlier this week.

The Junta de Protección Social de San José has enlisted the aid of the Banco Nacional, and the electronic lottery tickets will be available all over the country at the bank offices. In return, the bank will get a commission on sales. Minimum bet will be 200 colons (60 cents).

In addition to the electronic lottery that will be run three times a week, the Junta is getting in the sports betting business.

Sports betting will feature wagers on Division One soccer teams. Those who bet will be able to choose which teams they think will win. Soccer introduces the possibility of a tie game, so the odds are a little different than they would be for, say, baseball games. These forms also will be available at the Banco Nacional offices.

The Junta is taking this step to compete with the underground gambling that is obvious all over the country. Costa Rica also is the home of many Internet sports betting companies. It remains to be be seen how the Juntaís odds stack up with those of the major Internet betting companies.

The electronic lottery forms and the sports betting forms will be available from the many vendors who hawk tickets on the streets. The junta applies the lottery money to a number of social welfare projects all over Costa Rica.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Carlos Vargas is one of those people who makes the lottery successful by working even at night as he did Tuesday night.

Getting license is a breeze ó if you have paperwork
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

A pleasant surprise in Costa Rica is how easy a foreigner may obtain a driverís license.

In fact, a foreigner with a valid license elsewhere can count on spending no more than 90 minutes ó if all the papers are in order. If the papers are not in order, forget it.

Iíve done it both ways. The first time I saw the rambling structure at Avenida 18 and Calle 5 I knew I needed a medical examination. Thatís easy. There are offices, converted garages and probably any number of promoters on the street ready to direct you, even carry you to a waiting physician-like person.

I choose the office across the street from the license bureau because it was close and had been recommended. I later learned that some physicians do not apply the needed stamps on their medical reports, thereby causing problems later.

The office I chose had a sign" Donít be fooled, we include stamps." They did. The exam itself was no better and no worse than similar exams elsewhere. They verified I was warm, had a heart and could generally see big letters. I certified I didnít do drugs or drink to excess, and that there were no medical time bombs lurking in my body.

I paid 4,000 colons ($12), and got in the long, long line on the sidewalk across the street. A half hour later, I was inside the building and next to a sign that said I would need photocopies of every document. I didnít. I left.

When I returned a few days later with the photocopies, I knew I had a little problem. Some pickpocket had snagged my stateside driverís license a few weeks before downtown. I had with me a certified copy of my driving record and statement from my former state government that I, indeed, had a license and that the license was in good standing.

After another half-hour wait, the clerk informed me that all foreigners need to have their papers verified in the "jefectura," the administrative office. There I met the Dragon lady who told me "no license means you get no license." All the explanations in the world could not budge her. "The law," she told me, "says you have to have your license or you have to take the written and driving tests."

I found out later that she was correct. The Costa Rican law makes no provision for a foreigner bringing anything other than the plastic license. Obviously, this leaves a lot of loopholes for people with terrible driving records to get a clean license here. But the law is the law.

I toyed briefly with the idea of creating a U.S. license for myself on the computer, but figured someone might check.

At the same time, my wife needed to obtain her license. She went from the doctorís office, to the jefectura, got her photocopies validated and in about an hour had her shiny new Costa Rican license with a flattering photo. Thatís because she had all her paperwork in order.

Eventually I prevailed on the government of my

former state for a copy of my license. I didnít know you could get one by mail, but I found a form on the Internet and sent it in, right about the time the anthrax scare started in the United States. Neither rain nor snow nor dead of night nor anthrax kept my license from arriving quickly in the mail.

Now I was ready to sail through the license bureau. Maybe. It turns out that my wife and I have the same number on our residency carnets provided by Immigration. The license bureau uses the number as the license number. For a Costa Rican, they would use the convenient cedula number.

So when I went to have my paperwork checked, officials found that my license already had been issued. To my wife. I envisioned a long process with Immigration and the license bureau. Instead, the boss told a clerk to just add an extra zero. 

Quickly I was off to the in-house Bank of Costa Rica branch to pay my license fee: 1,200 colons (about $3.50) and another 420 colons ($1.25) for the license photo and plastic cover. 

The bank clerk looked at me funny. Then he asked me if I was getting a duplicate license. Then he looked at me funny again.

When I got the receipt I saw my wifeís name at the top. Whooops. The bank clerk had been put off balance by this big guy with a girlís name.
The duplicate number had come back to haunt me. 

And when the license clerk tried to take my photo, the computer would not let him.

Now normally in Costa Rica such confusion would result in an impossible bureaucratic situation. Not at the license bureau, where red tape seems to be cut regularly. A friendly guard escorted me to the computer systems expert who did something and then chanted over his computer terminal, and we were back in business.

I walked out of the license bureau exactly one hour after entering, notwithstanding two major glitches. Even the Dragon lady was sweet this time. The license is valid for two years after which the license is renewed for five-year terms.

Foreigners need to have their passport, the original driverís license from elsewhere, the medical report and copies of the first two. If an applicant has been here long enough to have a pensionado or rentista carnet or a cedula, that substitutes for a passport.

Midmorning seems to be the best time to avoid crowds. Sometimes officials will push foreigners ahead a little bit, particularly if the foreigner is of retirement age. Sometimes the office cuts off the line at 11 a.m. on Fridays, particularly Fridays before long holiday weekend.

The streets outside the license bureau are filled with hustlers who insist they have "friends" inside. They want a payment for what should be a simple process. 

If at all possible, foreigners should avoid the obligatory driving school, written test and driving test that Ticos must take to get their first license. That can be a long, frustrating process. The shortcut route for those who already have a license is not frustrating ó if you have the correct paperwork and even if you have only limited Spanish.

Dominican Republic begins three days of mourning for NYC victims
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Dominican Republic has begun three days of official mourning to remember those killed when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed en route to Santo Domingo.

Flags flew at half-staff Tuesday, and homecoming feasts turned to gatherings of grief as stunned communities began coming to terms with the sudden loss of their loved ones. Mourners also lit candles at makeshift memorials to honor the dead.

Most of the 260 aboard the doomed flight were Dominican nationals. Some were heading home for the holidays, others to visit loved ones after years of separation.

As the news reached the Dominican Republic,

relatives waiting for the plane's arrival at the airport fell to their knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Others fainted. 

The Dominican government quickly set up a grief counseling area at the airport, staffed by psychologists, doctors and priests. 

The country is still reeling from the loss of 40 of its citizens in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. 

One of Monday's crash victims escaped the disaster at the World Trade Center, where she worked as a waitress.

Dominicans living in New York are also in mourning. The community there is the largest outside the Caribbean country, numbering anywhere from 500,000 to one million. 

Mexico makes arrest in latest cases of murdered young women
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in the northern Mexican State of Chihuahua have arrested two men believed to be responsible for the rape and murder of eight women whose bodies were found last week near the border city of Juarez. The announcement comes at a time when Mexicans are feeling vulnerable. 

In a meeting with reporters, Chihuahua State prosecutor Arturo Gonzalez gave the names of the two men in custody. He said the two suspects are Victor Javier Garcia Uribe, 22, and Gustavo Gonzalez Mesa, also 22, and he said they are believed to have committed the murders in Juarez. 

Both men are bus drivers, as were several other men convicted of murdering young women in Juarez three years ago. Authorities say bus drivers often have the opportunity to encounter young women on their way to and from work in local factories at odd hours. 

Family members of the two accused men, however, say they are innocent. Some women's group activists are also skeptical. Just last week they marched in front of government buildings in Juarez 

condemning the murders and accusing authorities for doing too little to protect young women in the city. The women's groups say more than 200 young females have been killed in Juarez since 1990. 

Meantime, in the west coast resort city of Mazatlan, gunmen using automatic weapons have assassinated two federal judges. The judges had been involved in drug cases. Mazatlan, in the state of Sinaloa, has become one of the most violent localities in Mexico because so many drug gangs operate there. 

Such brazen crime has caused consternation among tourism officials and business leaders in Sinaloa and throughout Mexico. Some foreign companies have expressed reservations about opening operations in Mexico because of the rampant kidnappings and killings. 

Last week, a prominent business organization called on the government of President Vicente Fox to do more to fight crime. The Business Coordinating Council said organized crime has contributed greatly to the violent atmosphere in the nation and that drug gangs in particular are now better armed and equipped than the police forces that are supposed to fight them. 

U.S. citizens

killed in crash


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three U.S. citizens who died while driving to Montezuma Sunday have been identified.

The U.S. Embassy said they were Ted L. Benjamin, 35, of Pacifica, Calif., Patrick E. Bowen, 37, of San Francisco, Calif., and Michael P. Shapiro, 31, of Washington State.

The fourth person in the vehicle, was identified as Michael Benjamin. Investigators said he was in Hospital Mexico with multiple fractures.

Reports from Nicoya said the single-vehicle crash happened when the Suzuki Gran Vitara left the road and fell some 25 feet into the Corozal River  between Nandayure and Jicaral. A narrow, one-lane bridge crosses the river there. The crash happened about 1:30  p.m.

What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier