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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 15, 2004,  in Vol. 4, No. 226
Jo Stuart
About us
You mortgage your own property!
A surefire way to protect your real estate here
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Behind every palm tree there is someone lingering to steal a property one calls home.  Costa Rica is a win-lose society.  This means to win, someone else must lose.  Surely, this is the reason there is so much corruption in every level of the government.  Two ex-presidents jailed is a prime example of the current state of affairs.

A common practice among savvy Ticos when investing in real estate is to self-mortgage a purchased property.  Usually this is done by creating another company other than the one holding the property and using it to hold a mortgage over the other. 

This practice provides a fail-safe measure over real estate because should some crook illicitly transfer a property to him or herself, the company holding the mortgage executes the document against the crook to regain possession and ownership.

This custom is well known, commonly practiced but totally illegal, and this method does not guarantee full protection. 

There is a way to have the same protection legally.  It involves taking out cédulas hipotecárias or mortgage certificates over real estate.  These cédulas are like stock certificates and represent the value of the property for which they are issued.  Unlike a normal mortgage, the same person owning a property can own them perfectly within the law.

They work better than a standard mortgage because they can be used to borrow money based on their face value, or otherwise negotiated in normal business transactions much like stock certificates.

The key here is precaution, holding them as a security blanket over fraudulent property transfers.

There are new investors and potential homeowners arriving in Costa Rica each day.  Property values are exploding as many come to this country to find and own a piece of paradise.

However, many others have found Costa Rica is no Garden of Eden.  Some return from a vacation out of the country to find someone else living in their house or on their land because it has been stolen.

There are so many ways to rip off assets in Costa Rica.  The list is too long to outline them all.  Forged signatures on legal documents are one of the most common methods used to steal something here. Crooked notaries (all notaries in Costa Rica are also attorneys, but not all attorneys are notaries) and legal magic takes second place on the long list of thieves tricks.

Mortgage certificates are created over real estate by requesting the national registry (Régistro Nacional) to draw up the certificates.  The documents are made on special paper with special stamps and other security features.

The only way to release a mortgage based on mortgage certificates is with a special public 

legal instrument made by a notary. The original certificates must be attached to this document.

Property owners making mortgage certificates have the freedom to decide the number of certificates created. For example, one can make a mortgage for $100,000 represented by one certificate, or 10 certificates representing $10,000 each.

Mortgage certificates can be transferred with an endorsement.  Most banks accept them as guaranty for a loan.  A property owner can save thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees when borrowing money since bank lawyers do not need to create a new mortgage just verify the endorsement in the name of the bank.

Here is a checklist to create mortgage certificates for real estate:

1.)  Hire an experienced notary with the knowledge to register mortgage certificates. They are called cédulas hipotecárias in Spanish. Many attorneys do not know about them, so find one that really does. 

2.) A property needs to be free of encumbrances or other mortgages, since these titles represent a priority lien. Normal mortgages can be replaced by certificates. 

3.) The legal costs are comparable to the cost of a normal mortgage, less than 1.3 percent of the property value with most of the expense being the lawyer’s fee.

In summary, cédulas hipotecárias represent a great legal tool when investing and buying real estate in Costa Rica.  They can be time and money savers too. 

Most importantly, they are like having a Colt .45 in one’s back pocket against the bad guys. 

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides professional services to the international community. He can be reached at Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at

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Bandits kill policeman
in robbery chase

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits killed a Fuerza Pública officer Friday shortly after they took a quantity of cash from a man who had visited a bank in Matina.

The officer, Tomás Emel Fajardo Rosales, 37, died while he and two other officers in  a private car were in pursuit of the robbers. The bandits blew out windows of the vehicle and put bullets through the front windshield. Fajardo died from a bullet in the right eye.

That same afternoon, a massive police sweep resulted in one arrest, that of a Costa Rican identified by the last names of Salas Muños, 26. He was found handcuffed in  the white getaway vehicle the police had been chasing.

Later that night, police detained two Nicaraguans, identified by the last names of Guevara Vázquez, 26, and Castrillo Artola, 31. Police said they believe that two robbery suspects still are on the loose because two men forced a motorist to drive them to Siquirres.

The robbers got about 1 million colons (some $2,200) in their heist.

Fajardo was buried with honors Sunday in Batán. He was promoted posthumously to the rank of captain. The policeman joined the force in 1999 and spent three years in Cahuita. Later he was transferred to Matina.

Seeing-eye dogs get
constitutional court OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has ratified the right of blind persons to bring their seeing-eye dog into a restaurant.

The case was an appeal by a man identified as Gerardo Alberto Mora Rodríguez against Princesa Marina restaurant in Curridabat.

The court said that a trained dog was practically an organic extension of the owner, according to a release by a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

The court rejected alternatives, including the use of another person to guide the blind individual while inside the restaurant.

Central American imports
will get Mexican priority

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mexican government officials have to give priority to imports from Central America, according to an order by Vincente Fox, the Mexican president.

That was the news President Abel Pacheco brought back from a two-day summit of those countries involved in Plan Puebla Panamá.

Costa Rica has had a free trade treaty with México since 1995. And both presidents reaffirmed this treaty during the meeting.

México also promised more flexible credit terms for Costa Rica for Central American states that have to purchase petroleum on the world market, said a report from Casa Presidencial.

Police grab teacher
during school class

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police interrupted a class to arrest a teacher Friday on allegations that he had abused nine students.

The drama took place at the Escuela de República de Argentina, located in Barrio Mexico in northwest San José. The teacher was identified by the last name of Garro. He teaches informatics.

Officials said that fathers and mothers of the alleged victims tried to inflict a beating on the suspect.

Meanwhile, another teacher, this one identified by the name of Monge, got a 12-year prison sentence last week at the Tribunal de Juicio de Cartago, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.  Monge was charged with sexual abuse of three students. He was a music teacher in the second grade.

Man, 55, facing trial 
in murder of girl, 11

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 55-year-old man will go to trial this week as the principal suspect in the murder of an 11-year-old girl last year.

Prosecutors claim the man killed the girl in a fit of jealously because the girl had developed a friendship with a 13-year-old boy.

The murder took place in La Cruz de El Carmen in Goicoechea. Prosecutors claim the man, a family friend, showed up at the home about 7 a.m. Aug. 25 when only the girl and a 7-year-old brother were at home. The mother of the children was hospitalized with illness. The suspect sent the boy to the store on a errand and then attacked the girl with a knife, officials said.

The man was identified as Oscar Hernández Rojas. The girl was Miurel Camacho Cantillano.

Man murdered by gunman
in Desamparados area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 37-year-old man died a few minutes before midnight Saturday when someone shot him in the neck and ear. He was identified as César Anderson Miranda, and the shooting took place in the section know as El Llano in San Miguel de Desamparados.

A few minutes after being called, police located a second man with a bullet wound to the eye. Both men were believed to have been in an argument with a third man, who was detained a few minutes later. The third man still is unidentified.

Meanwhile, in Hatillo, a 29-year-ol man, Marlon Mora Granados, suffered a fatal knife wound that he received about 4 p.m. Saturday. The killer ran off with the man’s wallet, witnesses said.

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Guilty pleasures immortalized in this Tico dicho
Perro que come huevos ni quemándole el hocico

"A dog that eats eggs never stops even if you burn his mouth." I know this sounds a little confusing in translation, but the sense of it is that once a dog has got on to eating chicken eggs he will never give it up, not even if he gets his mouth burned. We sometimes use this expression to describe people who develop bad habits when they are young.

When we were kids, my cousin liked to smoke cigarettes. He and I used to go to the futbolin — a place to play table soccer or fussball — where we could feel safe smoking cigarettes away from the watchful eye of our parents. Often he would share his cigarettes with me (I never smoked otherwise, tsk, tsk). 

Once, one of my uncles was passing by the place and spotted us through the window. Of course, he rushed immediately to report this latest scandal of juvenile delinquency to the family.  We both denied smoking, but my father said to me that he knew I’d been smoking with Biggon — my cousin’s nickname at the time — and he asked me to look him straight in the eye and tell him the truth, no more questions after that, he promised. I looked straight at his eyes, but confessed only to having two puffs off one of Biggon’s cigarettes.

My father proceeded to tell me I was going to be punished. I complained bitterly, saying that he told me that if I told the truth nothing would happens to me. "I said there would be no more questions," he replied. "Not that there would be no punishment." I guess my punishment, which I now no longer even remember, was supposed to make me stop smoking, but actually that wouldn’t happen for another 15 years when a dear friend’s mother had to quit smoking following open heart surgery, and my friend and I both gave up the habit in a gesture of support for her.

The point of this little fable is, of course, that the punishment meted out by my father, which was designed to make me quit smoking, didn’t work, thus illustrating today’s dicho. Fortunately, I did manage to 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

give up cigarettes on my own several years later, but many smokers never succeed in kicking the habit, which often leads to serious consequences. 

Once upon a time, when I was a boy, we had a small farm where my mother loved to keep some livestock including a few chickens. She asked my father to find us a good dog to keep at the farm to protect the chickens from the foxes. He found us a big beautiful dog, which we named Policía. 

One night the people who kept the place for us called us in San José to say that thieves had broken into the henhouse and stolen all the chickens. "Where was Policía?" my father asked. The answer was that the thieves had apparently lured him away by giving him chicken eggs to eat. Now, this struck us all as really rather funny, but we knew we dare not laugh aloud lest we incur the wrath of my mother. 

I’ve read a lot recently about all the greed and corruption that’s going on in Costa Rica these days. Greed certainly does seem to be as addictive as any bad habit. For no matter how many legal mousetraps we put into it, some of our political and business leaders just can’t keep their hands out of the ol’ cookie jar.

'Caribe' is a real chore to watch and to understand
By Mitzi Stark
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

People are flocking to see "Caribe," the new Costa Rican movie set in Limón. Naturally everybody want to see what they can personally identify which is what is drawing the crowds. The story claims to portray the battle between those who favor oil exploration off the Limón coast and those who are against it. 

A review of the movie

Director Esteban Ramírez won a prestigious first place prize for Latin American films at the XIX Festival de Cine Latinamericano in Trieste for this film.

Unfortunately, the story is superficial. The tension between those who feel oil will grease the economy and those opposed for environmental reasons barely surfaces and while the screeching of the birds and the howling of monkeys may be music to the ears if you’re in the jungle, it drowns out the dialog in the movie.

The story is, of course, based on North American company Harken’s contract with the government to explore for oil off the coast of Limón and the protests by residents, tourist businesses and environmentalists to put a stop to test drilling in the Caribbean.

If a movie is good, we don’t mind sitting slumped in hard seats with heads tilted at angles to view the screen over the heads of those in front of us. "Caribe" is not such a movie and after 30 of the 90 minutes it became a true pain in the neck. 

Vincente owns banana plantations all over Limón Province and bananas have gone belly up in Europe in spite of the World Trade Organization which promises open markets. Hence, the dilemma. Poor Vincente feels responsible for all his workers and their families. But he is also drowning in other problems. His sexy sister-in-law, Elena, has come out of nowhere to stay with her sister Abigail which is pronounced A-big-a-lee here. 

Vincente is at first against the oil company but flip-flops several times just as he does with Elena and A-big-a-lee which causes him to start drinking and causes viewers to wonder if they haven’t seen this story many times before. Meanwhile, in times of stress, A-big-a-lee runs to a conveniently single peon on the family farm.

There are also the heavies for the Reynolds Oil Company with gritty skin and smirks who never the less, lure people to their side with promises of wealth and T-shirts promoting oil. While the scenery is beautiful, showing flora and fauna — frogs and spiders mostly — and there are glimpses of the sea between scenes and enough shots of Carnival for us to know it really is Limón, we can do without the explicit sex scenes. 

As happens, the good guys win if you’re on the side of the protesters, but Vincente doesn’t. When Elena announces that she is pregnant, he’s even deeper in dung. A-big-a-lee runs off into the rainy, steamy dark jungle followed by Vincente who is followed by Elena, the three of them stumbling over fallen logs and vines. I kept hoping one of them would get twisted up in one of those big snakes which would add interest to the film, but no such luck. 

Instead, out of nowhere shots ring out and Vincente falls to the ground bleeding. It is his wife who runs back to him to cradle his wet, dying head in her arms. Viewers never learn who shot him. (Or at least I didn’t but I may have dozed off there.)

The final scene is another glimpse of the sea with A-big-a-lee and Elena sitting on a log while behind them, out of sight mind you, a toddler plays at the water’s edge.

I got home from the show in time to turn on the news and saw a real protest against the Free Trade Agreement, right in familiar San Jose, which provided tension, story, humor and comfortable seating. If you still want to see "Caribe," it is on until Thursday at the Cinemark theaters, Cariari Mall, Outlet Mall and Mall Internacional.

Bush planning jaunt to Chile and to Colombia soon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The Bush administration is showing a renewed emphasis on Latin America.

President George Bush will be in Santiago de Chile Saturday and Sunday for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. Leaders from 21 Pacific Rim economies will attend.

On the way back home, Bush will travel to Cartagena, Colombia, to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. That meeting will be Nov. 22.

The While House said that Bush will discuss democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, terrorism and drug trafficking with Uribe.

Bush’s visits follow on the heel of one by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Nicaragua and El Salvador. He also plans to visit two other countries.

The visits also come at a time when Latin American officials were feeling neglected due to the War in Iraq 

and the emphasis fighting terrorism that was keeping the U.S. administration occupied elsewhere.

Rumsfeld, in a news conference in Managua Friday,  described Nicaragua as a strong and resolute partner in the global war against terrorism.

President Enrique Bolaños told the news conference that his country will destroy hundreds of Soviet-era SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles that Washington fears could fall into the hands of terrorists. Nicaragua already has destroyed about 600 missiles.

Bolaños said the rest of the missiles would be destroyed within 18 months. He said Nicaragua does not want U.S. financial compensation for doing so. In the 1980s, Nicaragua's Sandinista government received the weapons from the former Soviet Union to fight Contra rebels.

Rumsfeld flew to Nicaragua from El Salvador, where he awarded medals of valor to six Salvadoran soldiers credited with saving the lives of several Coalition Authority officials in Iraq. The final two stops of his Latin America tour are to Panama and Ecuador.

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Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and NASA graphic
This NASA-created index map condenses five years of rainfall data from 1998 to 2003. The colored areas show annual changes in rainfall. Areas in blue receive more rain whenever areas in red experience a shortfall, and vice versa.  The year-on-year change in rain is smallest in the green areas. The global pattern confirms that El Niño is the second biggest factor in changing how and where rain falls around the world. 

El Niño found to be major force in world's weather
By the National Aeronautic 
and Space Administration

NASA and Japan's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite has enabled scientists to look around the globe and determine where the year-to-year changes in rainfall are greatest. Scientists found that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation is the main driver of the change in rain patterns all around the world. 

El Niños occur when waters in the Central equatorial Pacific Ocean warm. El Niño-Southern Oscillation marks a see-saw shift in surface air pressure between Darwin, Australia and the South Pacific Island of Tahiti. When the pressure is high at Darwin it is low at Tahiti and vice versa. El Niño, and its sister event La Niña, are the extreme phases of this southern oscillation, with El Niño referring to a warming of the eastern tropical Pacific, and La Niña a cooling. Both El Niño and La Niña change weather patterns around the world.

Drs. Ziad S. Haddad and Jonathan P. Meagher of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. and Robert F. Adler and Eric A. Smith of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. used tropical rainfall data to identify the areas around the world where year-to-year changes between 1998 and 2003 were greatest. 

By studying the rain patterns in these areas over the last 50 years, they established that the main component of this change in rainfall around the world is directly correlated with the Southern Oscillation and El Niño.

Haddad and his colleagues compared the local changes in rainfall all around the globe. For years, scientists have known that El Niño drastically modifies rainfall patterns in many regions. 

For example, Indonesia and the Northeastern Amazon basin consistently suffer droughts during El Niño and excessive rains during La Niña. The Southeastern United States and California are typically wetter-than-usual during El Niño and drier-than-usual during La Niña. 

However, scientists have also known that several regions with abundant rain do not clearly reflect the El-Niño/La-Niña changes. Examples include the Bay of Bengal, the Western Indian Ocean and the vast expanse of the Western Pacific Ocean between the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and the Marianas.

Until the launch of the tropical rainfall measuring satellite in 1997, it was impossible to accurately measure change in global rainfall patterns because no instruments were available to record rainfall all around the planet. The satellite uses microwave technology to probe through clouds and estimate how much rainfall they are producing. The data are invaluable over areas where there are no rain gauges, such as the open ocean or underdeveloped areas.

The rainfall system is the first "space-based rain gauge" that uses microwaves to see how much precipitation falls from clouds around the tropics over land and ocean with unparalleled accuracy. NASA plans to launch the Global Precipitation Measurement mission in the future to follow up on the tropical rainfall measuring data.

Italy plans trade fair to promote Latin commerce
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

From Dec. 1 to 4 the Italian Embassy in Costa Rica will be host to "Contatto Italia." 

This event will bring together 10 countries. Its main aim is to establish stronger connections between Italian and Central American companies with a view to encourage more importation and exportation. 

The activity is being organised by the Italian Embassy in Costa Rica and the Chamber of Italian Commerce and Industry. 

Companies from several sectors, such as metal mechanics, chemistry and foodstuffs will be attending. Additionally, freight companies based at ports in the respective countries will also be present. 

At a time when the sources of foreign investment are multiple in Costa Rica, Contatto Italia, will serve as a way to inform companies about what is needed to increase the distribution of their products. In this case, the event is being held to specifically attract the interest of Italian investment. 

Companies from Italy, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Peru, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Venezuela, El Salvador and Honduras will be present. 

According to Sabrina Vargas the executive director of the Chamber of Italian Commerce and Industry, Costa Rica is a perfect location for potential investment from overseas. 

Ms. Vargas said she believes that Costa Rica is the ideal country to attract exporters and establish potentially beneficial relations with producers, distributors, exporters and importers between Italy, Costa Rica and other countries. 

"Costa Rica offers the opportunity of preferencial access to foreign companies," said Ms. Vargas. "It is direct and privileged towards the North American and Latin American markets. Italy has already seen the benefits of establishing relations. It has made several commercial agreements with countries in the area of the Carribbean." 

Ms. Vargas also said that the chambers of Italian commerce around the world  will serve as a channel to companies who look for new commercial opportunities. 

Italy is the fourth destination of Costa Rican exports to the European Union, representing 9.6 percent of its total commerce. 

Last year Italy imported $134 million worth of Costa Rican products, the most important being bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, leather, ornamental plants, and other foostuffs. In the same year Italy exported $125 million worth of products to Costa Rica. Textile fabrics, medical supplies, cars, ceramics and machinery are among the main products that Italy imports to Costa Rica. 

Contatto Italia will be one of the events that will mark the commemoration of 140 years of diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and Italy. 

Jo Stuart
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