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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Nov. 17, 2008,  Vol. 8, No. 228       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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Chillly weather predicted thanks to cold front
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Now is the time for some hot chocolate because an incoming cold front will keep temperatures low at
least until Wednesday, said the nation's weather bureau.

Wind chill will become especially strong in
Guanacaste and in the Central Valley, after a cold front enters Central America from the Gulf of
Mexico. Northerly winds in Guanacaste may blow as hard as 13 to 18 knots, or 24 to 39 kph.

Surfers may rejoice to learn that waves may become as high as 7.5 feet, or 2.29 meters.
Northern Costa Rica and the Caribbean coast,
meanwhile, will be affected by light to moderate rains rather than increased winds.

The chill will strike San José the hardest, forecasts say. San José may see temperatures drop to 14 degrees C. or 57.2 degrees F. tonight and Tuesday night, along with rising wind pressure and decreased chances of rain. Alajuela may also become as cold as 15 degrees C. or 59 degrees F. today, with nightly temperatures of 13 degrees C. or 55.4 degrees F. in Cartago, said the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

Extended forecasts predict the cold spell will break after Wednesday, although it is also possible that the chilly nights in San José could continue into the weekend.

Costa Rican officials all excited by Chinese visit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What is just a tropical layover for the president of China has become a defining moment for Costa Rica.

The president, Hu Jintao, landed with his entourage about 3:30 p.m. Sunday and was greeted with tight security and smiling Costa Rican officials. There also was a delegation from the local Chinese community. Hu was accompanied by his wife, Liu Yongqing, and government and Communist Party officials.

Hu arrived in Costa Rica from the Group of 20 summit on the current international financial crisis in Washington, D.C,  with a stopover at long-time ally Cuba. He is headed to the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Organization in Lima, Peru, and also has planned a state visit to Greece.

The Chinese president was met at Juan Santamaría airport by a delegation headed by Bruno Stagno. Costa Rican officials are proposing a free trade treaty with China in the hopes of expanding their options in the world market. China is mainly interested in raw materials for its growing industrial sector, although the country has suffered economic reverses due to the current world economic contraction.

There was nothing official on the schedule Sunday. Hu met with local Chinese leaders at the Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú. Today he meets with President Óscar Arias Sánchez to formalize a number of agreements, including China's gift of a new soccer stadium in Parque La Sabana. The old stadium, built in the early 40s already has been demolished except for the original main gate.

From 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. today the Autopista 
chinese president
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
y Culto photo by Miguel Diaz
Hu Jintao greets Bruno Stagno

Próspero Fernández and the entire Circunvalación will be closed to Zapote where Casa Presidencial is located. The Chinese president will be traveling there to meet with Arias. Then from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Avenida 2 and Paseo Colón will be closed.

Later, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. the autopistas General Cañas and Bernardo Soto will be closed to traffic to Juan Santamaría airport while the Chinese president travels there to leave.

Some schools are not in session today due to the visit. Arias canceled work for many public employees today with the claim that this would reduce traffic in the city core. However, a spokesperson for the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería in La Uruca said it would function normally,

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 228

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Giant Matapalo project
scene of wave of illness

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Health officials are continuing to investigate the causes of an illness that swept through the 1,500 person workforce at the Hotel Riu at Playa de Matapalo, Guanacaste.

One worker died of still unknown reasons, and some 200 have complained of fever and other symptoms. Local and national health officials are investigating.

The gigantic project has a six-story main building and a total of 701 guest rooms. It is just 33 kms or 20.5 miles from the Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia. The five-star resort is scheduled to open next year. Most of the employees there are Nicaraguans who live at the site.

Window breaking suspected
for third time in Hatillo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The third time is a charm, policemen in Hatillo hope.

Friday they arrested for the third time a man suspected of robbing motorists by breaking a vehicle window and taking what is available to his reach inside.

The man, 19, has the last names of Madrigal Femenias. The man was arrested for the second time Wednesday when police said they saw him trying to break the window of a vehicle driven by a female motorist. They arrested him and turned him over to the Ministerio Público for processing. That is the prosecutor's office.

It appears that Madrigal appeared before a judge who set him free again. So police spotted him again about 4:50 p.m. on the Circunvalación highway in Hatillo 5. They said he again was trying to rob from a vehicle by breaking the window.  There are several stop lights on that main highway in Hatillo, so it has become a mecca for those robbers police call quiebravidrios or window breakers.

Maritime zone seminar
planned for Tuesday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría de la República plans a seminar Tuesday on the country's maritime zone and the challenges in maintaining it.

The maritime zone is that area 200 meters from mean high tide at oceans and rivers. The first 50 meters is reserved for the use of the public. The remaining 150 meters can be leased in concessions to private developers or homeowners..
The Contraloría has been the principal agency in forcing municipalities to clear the public zone of commercial structures. Some of the decisions have been controversial.

Representatives of different agencies have been invited to the seminar, the Contraloría said. The session will be opened by Francisco Antonio Pacheco, who will be interim president of the country while Óscar Arias Sánchez is in New York at the United Nations. The seminar will be at the  Centro Nacional de Alta Tecnología in Rohrmoser starting at 8 a.m.
La Uruca is location
for expats to get licenses

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreigners seeking a Costa Rican driver's license can only apply at the transport ministry in La Uruca in northern San José. The office used to be based in Plaza Víquez, but in August 2007 was moved.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that foreigners who already have a valid driver's license in their native country need not fear the application process in Costa Rica. Tourists can use their U.S. or European license for up to three months, except for driver's licenses obtained in Colombia or Central America, which are valid for only one month, it said in a release.

After this time has expired, it is necessary to request a license through the motor vehicles office in La Uruca. Tourists must present copies of a valid passport, entry visa and driver's license from his or her country. While Costa Ricans may apply for their licenses in banks, foreigners are required to apply in La Uruca.

Applicants have to take a medical exam that checks for eyesight or heart problems in advance of getting the license. This may cost up to 6,000 colons (about $11), and there now are doctors' offices in La Uruca which conduct such exams specifically for the driver's license application, said the ministry.  Applicants must provide information about blood type, too.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 228

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Real estate brokers to meet Tuesday on the state of market
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Real estate brokers will be considering the state of the market Tuesday in a trade meeting in the Hotel San José Palacio.

The group is the Cámara Costarricense de Corredores de Bienes Raíces, the 34-year-old association of real estate brokers and others in the field.

For brokers and others like appraisers and notaries, the market has turned 180 degrees in the last six months. A number of notaries who made substantial income by receiving a percentage of each real estate deal they handled are now seeking other types of legal work, according to information mostly from the Pacific coasts.

A number of major condo projects, mostly in the beach communities, have been halted due to lack of customers.

Many projects here are constructed with the upfront down payment provided by buyers, so when that cash flow slows, so does the project.

So far there have been few complaints from those who have given money to developers of projects that might never well be finished. However, such complaints are inevitable given the lack of true trust accounts in Costa Rica where a buyer's money could be protected.

In addition to the scarcity of purchasers for luxury projects, developers also are facing a lack of credit. Even in cases where credit was promised and even signed for, some banks are backing down. The Óscar Arias administration is trying to increase the liquidity of two state banks with infusions of $50 million each, but that measure still is in the legislature.

The credit problem is compounded because some projects are worth less today than when the financing was arranged.
Value is a function of cash flow, as a letter writer explains today, and a decrease in anticipated rents means a lower project value and less willingness for the bank to lend money.

Despite the gloom over the real estate and legal professions, A.M. Costa Rica classified advertisers seem to be moving property. These mostly are individuals with one or two properties to sell. A handful of such deals have been made in the last two weeks, according to e-mails from classified customers. Most say they have received about what they were asking as a sales price.

That information jibes with other reports of sophisticated investors quietly making deals during what they consider to be the bottom of the market.

Savvy real estate brokers have increased their advertising buys here and elsewhere.

When the real estate brokers meet Tuesday, they will have some experts as speakers.

A 9 a.m. talk by Jaime Ubilla Carro, chief executive officer of Improsa Sociedad Administradora de Fondos de Inversion, will start the discussion. At 10 a.m. a representative of the Cámara Costarricense de la Construcción will address what is being called a crisis.

Those who attend will concentrate on these topics in round table discussions that follow.

At 2 p.m. Manfred Pino, a local lawyer who is an agent for Chicago Title Co., will discuss ways to lessen the impact of the real estate crisis.

Chamber members also will discuss a proposed law to require licensing in the real estate field and to regulate real estate sales contracts.

Readers present different opinions on immigration redraft
Immigration reform
simply will not pass

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I understand that many expats fear the passage of a new immigration law in Costa Rica but think that they are jumping the gun thinking that this will ever pass. Costa Rica has a long history of coming up with ideas that never come to fruition.

Also the motive may be to propose a extremely high income level so that they can come to an agreement for a lesser amount which is what has happened in the past. That way both sides feel like they are getting what they want. I still think that this will go nowhere prior to Arias finally leaving office and after that, it is a dead deal. I honestly see no way that this bill will pass and think that expats are generally over reacting.

Best thing for them to do is to petition and write letters to let the legislators know how they feel about this issue. Also to have Tico businesses that profit from expats to join in the petition. Make as much noise as possible and stall this for as long as can be done.

Eventually it will not pass particularly since they don’t have someone poking them to get it done like they did with CAFTA. Costa Rica has made many very bad decisions in the past few years which are going to cause the country to suffer down the road. The only hope is that they will not continue to make poor decisions and that with new leadership that things will get better. Sometimes the red tape in Costa Rica can work to our advantage. I think this is one of those cases. Just my dos colones
John Rabb

Panamá was better deal
than living in Ojochal

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I have been a perpetual Tourist in Costa Rica for several years. I did all the work to get my pensionado using the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, and all was approved (2004). I lived in the town of Ojochal, which is four to five hours away from San José.

I received my notification to come and sign the final paperwork on the night before I was to be in San José. I would have been driving at night and did not feel comfortable doing that so I called and asked for a reschedule of coming in to sign up and pay the NEW $300 fee that I had not been informed of by ARCR.

They never were able to reschedule so I decided to remain as a perpetual tourist. I just drove to the border and went to Panama for 72 hours as a short holiday. This is how I learned that living in Costa Rica is a pretty expensive place and that they really do not want the "not so rich" foreigner living in Costa Rica.
As a result of Costa Rica NOT wanting the Gringo, I have now moved my primary residence to Panama. I am now about 75 kms from the border, living on a beach (for less money than I was able to live on in Ojochal) and am still able to spend all the time I wish in Costa Rica to enjoy the more beautiful mountains and better wildlife than available in Panama. There is no problem going back and forth through the border.
Panama wants us. We get a 20-year exemption on all house taxes, we get a 20 percent discount on meals and prescriptions and transportation (taxi and bus), we get 50 percent discounts on things like entertainment (like movies). Purchasing property is as risky as it is in Costa Rica and getting titled land is pretty tricky, just like Costa Rica, but it is quicker. It took me 23 days to get my pensionado, and it only cost $800 (I am using my Social Security as my guaranteed income).

Cost of food is about the same as Costa Rica. Gasoline prices are now down to $2.47 (less for diesel). They follow the U.S.A. pricing plus about $0.40 and it is adjusted once a week. Theft is a problem here also, but there does not seem to be as much violence. Cars are a LOT cheaper to purchase here.
I would still like to live in Costa Rica - but they don't want me.
Frank Yates
Playa Barqueta, Panama,
and Ojochal, Costa Rica

Costa Rica written off
as retiree destination

Dear AM Costa Rica:
For the past 10 months I have been following and studying as many Costa Rica laws as possible in order to make the best informed decisions necessary for relocating in my retirement years.
In that 10-month period I have unearthed enough laws that could have a direct influence on the degree of quality of life I am seeking for myself. Without getting into laws most people would not care about, I will say Mr. Vallancourt's recent comments to A.M. Costa Rica to sum it up well.
The recent financial situations here alone is the U.S. are bad enough. I have had 25 years worth of work wiped out, and will have a tough time making any kind of decent recovery. I have for the past five years researched many countries and their attitudes and incentives for attracting foreign retires, as well as over all quality of life.
Many countries have in place very strict requirements to enter their county and other do not, and rightfully so. Some, like the U.S. offer a very good quality of life and often those requirements are set high for entry. Some only allow investors that will produce quality jobs for their own citizens, and have age limitations as well, unless you enter as a result through marriage to that country's born citizen for the most part.
Costa Rica, although a wonderful place, simply doesn't offer as high a quality of life as it thinks it does. I will be in Costa Rica shortly for the first time, but have already even before these most recent restrictions rerouted my time, money and resources to their close neighbor. Where I will spend the majority of my vacation and research time.
I have seen versions of Costa Rica's pressure to overtax those who have the best ability to the much needed income to an area many times. Even from U.S. county to another. It doesn't work. It just simply starts to strangle the very income flow they were hoping to gain from these ill sighted laws.
One reader made a comment on a Costa Rican having a hard time getting to the U.S. Well, first the U.S. has a high quality of life for many reasons, The reader didn't state if the Costa Rican had income or not to add to the U.S. economy or had enough that the person wasn't a threat to it. Meaning they had enough reasons and money of their own to want or show a good reason to return to their own county once they have visited. If the person was entering under a fiancée visa or not. All though things have a factor on one's visit to the U.S.
It's a big world out there, and I, myself, have written off Costa Rica as a retirement destination. Heck I can stay in the U.S. and live very well on what Costa Rica now demands for entry. There are just too many NICE places to live than in Costa Rica.
Brian Conaway

Constant pressures caused
this nomad to leave

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I lived in Costa Rica for seven years then moved to Hawaii three years ago.  In the beginning Costa Rica seemed like the paradise I’d been searching for all my life.  In all fairness to Costa Rica, I confess to being a nomad.  I fall in love with places but when the honeymoon is over I look for greener pastures.

For those of you who complain of the government’s proposed increase in income requirements, I understand your frustration.  It could be that final straw that causes you to leave the country.

In a letter written by Mark Vallencourt he stated that, "...a Tico hates all foreigners ...".  I strongly disagree.  That is not my experience.  I think Ticos genuinely like foreigners, especially Americans.  I am treated very well there.  After all, there’s lots to dislike about us (. . . Bush, for one).

I read A.M. Costa Rica on Fridays because I love Jo Stuart’s column.  She understands the country, lives modestly, and sees the charm and simplicity of the Ticos.

Besides my nomadic nature which influenced my departure, I tried to live and work within their system.  The constant driving, dealing with lawyers, bureaucracy, etc., etc., wore me out.  I was becoming one of those angry Gringos that I dislike (I always said:  If you don’t like Costa Rica, then leave).  Jo Stuart enjoys Costa Rica.  She wanders around the city, finds a small café, interacts with Ticos and seems to know how to make it work.  This is true for most of the Gringos that I know who live there. 

I visit Costa Rica from time to time.  It works best for me being a visitor.
Roland Shanklin
More taxation measures
are sure to follow

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
The Arias administration, in May 2006 said that the most pressing priority after CAFTA is a new fiscal plan. There is no surprise that (a) immigration requirements will become stiffened, (b) real estate taxes will double in some cases and (c) whenever possible property will be re-evaluated to reflect current value.
More to come is a worldwide tax, similar to that of the U.S., the $15 inbound tourist tax and a financial transaction tax which would cover everything from ATM withdrawals to paying bills. All of these concepts have been and are being considered. There is no secret.
For many years now the typical expat has not been welcome in Costa Rica but rather tolerated, be she/he from Colombia, Venezuela or Ohio. All former economic incentives have been gradually and now totally extinguished.
This administration, more than all others is active in practicing the gentrification of Costa Rica. It offers no assistance to small enterprise, retirees nor limited investments. To counter the marriage of convenience game, residency will now require three years of marriage and much like the days of the conquistadors, "proof of consummation." I guess that means flying the nuptial sheet off the balcony again? Costa Rica has evolved into the elephant hunter, not a trapper of rabbits. (The only problem with that is if you do not bag an elephant, the whole village starves.)
If the expat has wealth and willing to leave some of that here, "bienvenido." The more money brought to the table, the bigger the welcome to Costa Rica fruit basket will be. If you are a dude surfer, great advertising, keep up the good work and get out of the country every 90 days and come back with a new visa. You are an attraction and not very expensive to support albeit you will now have to buy into the national health insurance system and if you do not carry the card — toast. If you are retired and just want to live a normal life,  perhaps buy a  home, car, eat out once in awhile and watch the toucans, no "pura vida" for you anymore. You gotta go to Panama for your in-room tropical fruit basket.
The country knows that good income can be had from tourism which is why the proposed immigration bill will permit a 180 day stay with a $100 visa payment instead of the now 90-day limit. This appeals to the snowbird and should make real estate agents pleased. The country focus is on tourists, wealthy tourists if possible, not retirees who served their purpose similar to how Taiwan did for more than 40 years and then got dumped for China.
There are still reasons to not sell out and run or even stay away. The foremost is expats get a great U.S. tax break followed by year-around "warm" outside.
John Holtz
Santa Ana

Immigration publicity already
caused substantial damage

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

While I personally do not believe that the bill for immigration "reform" or "change" will pass (pensionados and expats minimum requirements being substantially raised), I also believe that this shortsightedness have already caused substantial damage.

My business is real estate and development, and I estimate that at least 25 people have said that they are taking their business and retirement plans elsewhere.  While this may only represent a tiny portion of this country's revenues, in light of the economic problems that the world is facing, can Costa Rica afford to lose even that small amount?   And by the way, 25 people buying homes or land here, investing, and ultimately living here and probably each spending $2,000 plus per month adds up to a pretty penny.  That amount is now irrevocably gone.

Whether of not I believe that the proposal will pass is moot.   The damage has been done and potential retirees are viewing even the thought and publicity of such a proposal as enough to say " no" to Costa Rica.

I am not a citizen here and have no right to criticize the government if they really choose to discard literally hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue per year. I guess the question is "why?"

We often have a saying here that is "it is what it is," and only the future will determine if my opinion or that of A.M. Costa Rica's is right.   But, if this administration truly wants to retain American and Canadian dollars, they should perhaps hire a qualified PR firm and consider the impact of their publicity and statements first.
Randy Berg
San Miguel de Grecia

Drop in investment value
is more than rent cuts

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Experienced real estate appraisers use a variety of methods like replacement cost, discounted cash flow analysis, insurable value, value in use, and even liquidation value.  What we are seeing now is a growing trend of North American buyers who made initial deposits on condo projects at the beaches which looked like great deals a year ago now trying to find a way to back out of the final payments as the projects are ready to be delivered.

The projections of rental income for these mega beach managed complexes were based on what is referred to as rack rates or full charge, since most of the industry gives discounts to travel agents, real estate agents which are the real net rates.  Typically in Costa Rica these have amounted to discounts from 10 percent to 25percent.  Thus when these rates either rack or net decrease by a large amount,  the values tend to decrease by a larger percentage than the decrease in rates.  Why?  Because of the same psychological fear in the stock market.  Buyers dry up and the market spreads between offering prices and sales prices widen just like the spreads in the fixed income market.

A simple example of this is a condo in the Gringo market that rented for $1,000 a month and now sits vacant due to the downturn in tourism or interest from persons looking to relocate.  We have advised our clients to address the realities of the market place and lower the rent instead of having vacant properties.  Lately we have seen decreases that are needed to create occupancy in the 20 percent range.  Thus using accepted cash flow analysis the property decreases in value 20 percent. 

However there are other factors which must be understood.  Maintenance does not decrease. Thus it becomes a larger percentage of the net rates or rents achieved. Same for insurance and property tax.  Using the example of $1,000  a month with maintenance of $124 with rent now at $800 the maintenance is now 15.5 percent not 12.4 percent. Thus the decreased value is more than 20 percent.

This is like a virus which spreads thru the marketplace and the U. S. banking system became a victim of this virus.  Why does the government of Costa Rica now want to create the same type virus by making it difficult to attract retirees and rentistas to come to Costa Rica.  Panama is certainly doing exactly the opposite, and Costa Rica will suffer if our policy does not change quickly.   Uncertainty is not good for any market.

We are on the board or what is referred to as junta directiva of several condo projects here in the Central Valley.  We are investors, but our business is also economic analysis and appraisals, and we even act as administrators for our friends.  After years of doing the research and watching the markets and trying to make sure the administrations of condo projects work efficiently, we hope the government will wake up and encourage new arrivals.

Angela Jimenez Rocha
Architect with 23 years experience in appraisals

After 20 years here,
they do not plan to leave

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have read the letters sent you about the change in the requirements to live here and absolutely do believe that the proposed ones are way to high.  However, the present ones are too low.
I do wonder where you can get a maid for $1 an hour.  We pay our maid and good repair workers $2.50 an hour and even added workmen's compensation for my maid.
We have found most Ticos very helpful and friendly although we know there are exceptions and have enjoyed our life here.  Twenty years go we found that there were many pensionados who really took advantage of this country and its people, and they caused a bad feeling for expats.
We came initially for my health which has benefited greatly and now in our 80s we have no desire to ever leave if at all possible.
Lucy Gucofski

New e-mail opposing bill now addresses changes for existing residents
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Javier Zavaleta, a residency consultant in Los Angeles, has edited and amplified a proposed text of an e-mail in Spanish that can be sent to members of a legislative committee studying the redrafted immigrations bill. E-mail addresses are at the end.

The letter opposes the current draft and suggests smaller increases in the financial responsibility that new residents must show.

Zavaleta added a paragraph that draws attention to the article in the bill that would seem to require current rentistas and pensionados to meet the new, higher requirements at the end of their current period of residency. He called the proposal unjust and immoral.  He suggests that all should be subject to the rules at the time they first obtained residency.

The letter:

Estimados Señores:

Escribo por este medio para expresar mi gran preocupación con el texto sustitutivo de los Artículos 78, 81 y 274-Transitorio II a la Ley de Migración y Extranjería, expediente No. 16.594, publicado en La Gaceta el pasado 27 de octubre del 2008.

Artículo 78 requeriría que extranjeros retirados que quieran aplicar por residencia bajo el Programa de Pensionados comprueben que disfrutan de una pensión minima de US$2.000 por mes.  Considero que este requisito es tan alto que efectivamente acabaría con el programa de pensionados en Costa Rica. Solicito atentamente que retengan el requisito de probar una pensión de $600 por mes, ahora en efecto.

Artículos  78 & 81 requeriría que extranjeros rentistas comprueben que disfrutan de rentas mínimas de US$5.000 por mes. Considero que este requisito es tan alto que efectivamente acabaría con el programa de rentistas en Costa Rica. Solicito atentamente que retengan el requisito de rentas de $1.000 por mes para rentistas solteros, y que cambien el requisito a US$1.500 por mes por familia, incluyendo el rentista, el cónyuge e hijos.

Artículo 274-Transitorio II: Aplicaría el texto sustitutivo en forma retroactiva a todos aquellos pensionados y rentista que ya gozan de sus residencias. El Transitorio II dice que “Para efectos de renovación de su condición y del
documento de permanencia en calidad de residente, se aplicará lo dispuesto en a presente Ley y su Reglamento.”
Considero que este Artículo es injusto e inmoral, pues aplicaría los nuevos requisitos a personas que aplicaron y recibieron sus residencias bajo diferentes condiciones. Solicito atentamente que completamente eliminen el Transitorio II del Articulo 274.

Señores Diputados, el impacto en la economía y la sociedad costarricense seria terrible si aprobaran el texto sustitutivo en la forma publicada en La Gaceta. Por favor implementen lo aquí sugerido para que Costa Rica continúe siendo un país que recibe a extranjeros decentes con los brazos abiertos.


Addresses of committee members:

Olga Marta Corrales Sanchez (PLN)

Sandra Quesada Hidalgo (PLN)
Oscar Eduardo Nunez Calvo (PLN)
Lesvia Villalobos Salas (PAC)

Alberto Salom Echeverria (PAC)
Mario Alberto Nuñez Arias (PML)
Gladys Gonzalez Barrantes (PLN)
Elizabeth Fonseca Corrales (PAC)

Jose Merino del Riío (PFA)

President of the Asamblea legislativa

Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 228

Russian President Medvedev planning a visit to Caracas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev travels to Venezuela later this month. The trip coincides with joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea and underscores not only growing ties between Russia and Venezuela but Moscow's broader policy to expand its influence in the Western Hemisphere.

A Russian flotilla, including the nuclear-powered warship "Peter the Great," is on its way to naval exercises in the Caribbean with Venezuela.

The Russian naval presence revives memories of the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and Russia during the Cuba missile crisis.

Michael Shifter is a Latin America expert with the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. He says Russia's move is a geopolitical response to U.S. support for Georgia during Moscow's August incursion.

"I think it has a lot to do with retaliating for what the U.S. reaction was to the Georgia crisis and the naval forays in the Black Sea," Shifter said. "And I think Russia is showing it's also a player in this hemisphere."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been courting Russia, visiting Moscow over the years to sign various agreements, including weapons purchases. 
Russian fighter jets have been sold to Venezuela, and Caracas has bought 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles for its military.

Chávez is scornful of U.S. concerns over the arms sales and the upcoming joint maneuvers. "Already the speculation has started," Chávez said. "It's the voices of the Yankees, saying that secret bases will be set up where the Russians will put atomic bombs."
But if the exercises and the publicity surrounding them worry the U.S. State Department, Thomas Shannon, an assistant secretary with broad knowledge of Latin America, showed little concern.

"This is Russia, not the Soviet Union," Shannon said. "In other words, they don't have an ideological agenda. This is driven by short-term politics and economics, especially the sale of weapons. It's something we're watching closely, but not something we're watching with great worry at this point."

Russia's growing ties with Venezuela and the planned naval maneuvers should be of no concern to anyone, said Sergei Ryabkov, deputy Russian foreign minister

"It looks like everyone has been accustomed for a long time to our warships being in naval bases and our warplanes in hangars, and thinking it will be like that forever," Ryabkov said.

Besides courting Venezuela, Russian officials are expanding ties with Bolivia and other Latin American countries. 

The focus is mainly economic, like an agreement to invest in Bolivia's natural gas fields, for example.

But Russia's expanding influence in Latin America might pose a problem for Washington, said Latin America expert Shifter. "It may help Latin America, it expands Latin America's economic opportunities, diversifies its relationships," Shifter said. "I think that's healthy. The problem becomes when there's a deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations and then there are maneuvers closer to the United States and then it becomes a greater concern that the United States has to deal with."

The exercises will coincide with a visit by Medvedev to Caracas, where he will meet with President Chavez. The visit is expected later this month.

Fidel Castro's essay cast doubt that relations will improve with Obama
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has cast doubt on whether a new president in the United States will change the country's policies.

In an essay posted online Friday, the ailing former leader did not mention president-elect Barack Obama by name. But in an apparent reference to the Democrat, he said it is "naive" to think the "good intentions" of one "smart person" could change what he called "the result of centuries of selfishness."

Castro said contempt for incumbent President George Bush has caused illusions in some people that the United States will be more tolerant and less hostile when a new leader takes office.
Before the election, Castro praised Mr. Obama in the state-run "Granma" newspaper, calling him more intelligent and level-headed than his Republican rival, John McCain.

Since Obama's victory, the 82-year-old former leader and his younger brother, Cuba's current president, Raul Castro, have not directly commented on the new president-elect.

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for almost half-a-century. He formally ceded power to his brother in February after giving up the post on a provisional basis following intestinal surgery in 2006.

Mr. Castro has not been seen in public since the surgery,  essays on international issues that are attributed to him appear frequently. Most of them appear in the state-run newspaper.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 228

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.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.


A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

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

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

Japan's whaling fleet
believed ready to start hunt

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Japan's whaling fleet is expected to begin soon its annual whale harvest in the Southern Ocean. Tokyo has yet to confirm when the ships involved in the controversial program will depart, or even where they will sail from. Some environmentalists groups say they are preparing to harass the whaling fleet.

Reports suggest that Japan's whaling fleet is preparing to leave port to commence its annual hunt in the Southern Ocean.

Details of the whalers' plans have not been made public, such are the sensitivities of the controversial expedition in the icy waters near Antarctica.

Tokyo has insisted that its whaling program is undertaken for scientific reasons and that the catch provides crucial data on the giant mammals.

Wildlife campaigners argue that such activities are meant to hide illegal commercial whaling, which was outlawed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.

Environmental group Greenpeace, which has pursued the Japanese vessels in recent seasons, is keeping its ship at home this year, preferring instead to focus its campaigning efforts in Japan. However, the radical Sea Shepherd group is planning to again confront the whalers, forcing the Australian Government to call for restraint.

Greenpeace activist, Frode Pleym, believes that efforts to force Japan to abandon its annual hunt will be successful.

"It is a program which already is vulnerable and together with that the consumption is going down in Japan, the international pressure applied on Japan and now the tactics launched by Greenpeace to win the campaign in Japan, I feel very confident that we also in Japan will see an end to whaling and that whaling will be placed where it belongs, in the past," said Pleym.

Australia has lead international efforts to find diplomatic ways to force the Japanese to end its annual hunt.

Canberra has repeatedly called Japan's whaling activities an "unnecessary slaughter."

Fisheries officials in Tokyo have said that the fleet has set a target of 850 minke and 50 fin whales during this year's expedition in the Southern Ocean.

The World Wildlife Fund says seven of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable, including the fin whales.

Last year, Japan retreated on a plan to hunt endangered humpback whales after international protests.

Jo Stuart
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