A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 229          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
About us

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Those who oppose the free trade treaty turn out in force: BELOW!

Victims were in upscale Santa Ana and Escazú homes
Man held as leader of brazen robbery ring
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A sophisticated band of robbers has been preying on wealthy residents of Santa Ana and Escazú. The gang brazenly breaks into homes — even in guarded communities — and holds the occupants at gunpoint while they steal money, jewels and other valuables.

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization may have netted the leader of this gang, they said Thursday. 

The gang is responsible for at least 20 robberies in the area, according to Francisco Ruíz, a spokesman for the investigating organization.

The bandits enter the gated communities and upscale subdivisions in two expensive vehicles so as not to raise the suspicions of the private guards, agents said.  Once inside, the occupants of one of the vehicles – usually four or five men dressed in all black and wearing ski masks– would enter a dwelling violently, tie up the occupants and steal everything from any safe, and take jewelry and any money they found. 

If that wasn't enough loot, the gang would make off with electrical appliances and computers, and art works as well, agents said.

Two bandits would wait in the second car keeping watch with a two-way radio and
emergency frequency scanners to notify their partners if police or guards approached the operation, agents said.

Wednesday afternoon agents raided the home of the 24-year-old suspected leader of the gang in Montes de Ayarco, Curridabat.  The man, Johan Paúl Alfaro, had several pieces of evidence in his home linking him to a Nov. 10 robbery of a Dutch diplomat in Residencial Villa Real, Santa Ana, and a Nov. 14 robbery in the same neighborhood, agents said. 

Three suspects had been arrested in raids Sept. 30 in Hatillo 6, Ciudad Colón and Santa Ana.

During their raid, agents seized a blue Mitsubishi Montero with evidence linking it to the last robbery, which according to reports, ended in a shootout with guards.  The robbers reportedly fled and one of the vehicles rammed through the gate at the guard shack.

Rumors of the robberies have circulated for at least a week. But even Ruiz, who lives in the upscale Villa Real subdivision said Wednesday that he was unaware of the crimes. However, after checking with robbery detectives, he acknowledged that there was an investigation.

Fuerza Pública officers in Escazú also said Wednesday that they had not heard of any such crimes. But Ruiz emphasized that 20 such home invasions was the minimum being investigated.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 229

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Juan Santmaría radar
will get a makeover

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radar at Juan Santamaría international airport will be getting a $1 million-plus upgrade.

The goal is to provide safer landings even when runways are fogged in as they were Thursday night.

The non-profit Corporación Centroamericana de Servicios de Navegación Aérea has appropriated more than $1.5 million to modernize the radar system at the Alajuela airport.  However, some of these funds will be redirected to Daniel Oduber international airport in Liberia and Tobías Bolaños in Pavas, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. 

The hope is that the new radar system will raise safety and reduce the number of flights canceled resulting from fog.  16 such flights were canceled at Juan Santamaría in the first half of October alone, said Randall Quirós, minister. The Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil is in his ministry. 

With the money from another $100,000 investment by the same corporation, officials are hoping to install an automatic weather station.  The station would have special sensors that would allow reports from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional to be more precise, thereby improving safety and efficiency and reduce canceled flights, Quirós said. 

The new system will permit hourly weather reports from the weather institute 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said.  Also, the new installation will allow the country to comply with air security requirements mandated by Dirección General de Aviación Civil and that of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which categorizes Juan Santamaria's status as a certified international airport.   

Quirós added that he hopes that the installation of the new equipment will be complete sometime next year.  Similar plans are also being made for Daniel Odubar.  The use of that airport has exploded as Guanacaste has become a prime tourist destination for North Americans. 

Quirós, along with Pablo Manso of the weather institute and Eduardo Montero, vice minister of Transportes announced the new system at a press conference Thursday. 

Men on motorcycle
suspects in fake bills

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers captured two men carrying 52,000 colons ($105.61) in false bills, police said.

The two suspects, identified by the last names Chávez Arroyo and Cerdas Morena, are accused of using a fake 5,000-colon note to buy oranges, apples and bananas at a Cartago fruit stand, police said.  The two men made their purchase, hopped on a motorcycle and sped away, police said.

The proprietor of the fruit stand, after examining the bill, realized it was a fake and called the Fuerza Pública, they said.  In Cipreses de Oreamuno, police caught up with two suspects, they said. 

Officers seized from the two men: two 5,000 colon notes, six 2,000 colon notes and 30 10,000 colon notes all of which are false, police said. 

Popular San Pedro street
is scene of drug arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents with the secuirty ministry arrested two men accused of selling marijuana on Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro, a popular spot for Universidad de Costa Rica students and other young people.

The suspects were identified by the last names Varela Díaz, 29 and Badilla Alvaredo, 27, agents said. 

The two men were arrested as they sold drugs from a grey car on the street, agents said. 

Officers seized two ounces of marijuana and 20,000 colons, or a little over $40, from the men, they said.  

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policís y Seguridad Pública provided the details.

New source of wealth
is ideas, Intel chief say

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TUNIS, Tunisia — Acting as the ambassador for the global information and communications technology industries, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett told the opening ceremony of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society that a new era in economic history is marked by “ideas as the new source of wealth.”

“Technology enables businesses and individuals to participate in the global information society,” said Barrett, who as chairman and former CEO of Intel visits more than 30 countries a year. “The world has changed, and geography is no longer destiny,” said Barrett. “Technology enables every child in every small community to have the same opportunity.” The company makes chips in Costa Rica.

To be competitive in today’s information society, students need to develop 21st century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration, he said.

“The most valuable assets in the world today are ideas and the people who create and develop them,” said Barrett.

“Infrastructure is the key to connecting people and ideas,” said Barrett.

“Technology empowers individuals, but it alone is not the solution,” said Barrett. “Government and business must collaborate to create the right environment for every economy to thrive.”

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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A.M. Costa Rica

Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 229

To check on a tiny electric bill needs a big computer
I was relieved to read recently that a traumatic experience can induce amnesia. I couldn’t remember half the things I did prior to and after moving and going to the hospital.  I thought I was losing my mind. Of course, one person’s trauma is another person’s piece of cake. 

I must have contacted RACSA to change my dialup telephone number because I could get on line from my new apartment, but was the bank now paying the bill for my new phone number and did I cancel the automatic payment of the electric bill at my last apartment?  I decided to make the rounds to double check.

My first stop was the ICE building, conveniently just around the corner, with the Banco de Costa Rica in the same building.  When I asked them on the bank side if they were automatically paying my phone and electric bills, they said I had to check with ICE.  The clerk at ICE checked on his computer and said my phone bill was being paid.  When I asked about my electric bill, he said that they didn’t handle electric bills at that building, I would have to go to the ICE building downtown.  There I was told that to get that information I would have to go to the Banco de Costa Rica.  I explained that the people at the bank had already said I had to go to them.  The kind man wrote down his name and phone number and said, “If you have a problem, just tell them to call me.”  Off I went, walking (in the rain, of course) the eight or so blocks to the bank in the Parque Morazan area.  I took my ficha and sat waiting for my number.

When my turn came, I explained to the gentleman behind the desk that I wanted to find out if the bank was automatically paying my current electric bill and did I cancel payment of my bill at my last apartment.  He punched up about 210 keys on his computer and sat there for a few minutes staring at the screen.  Then he punched a couple dozen more keys and stared some more.  I had the uncomfortable feeling he was in another world and I had been completely forgotten.  More keys and more staring.  Finally I said, “Is the computer telling 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

 you something interesting?”  He nodded vaguely, still staring at the screen.  After a few more minutes I asked, “Could you tell me what it is saying? No answer.

“Do the payments have a code number?”  I asked. He seemed to recover from his reverie and return to the present. 

“I am printing it for you,” he said.  Great, I thought.  I have had those printouts before and never been able to figure them out.  But I nodded.

When the printout came, he began perusing it.  Again I lost him in his fascination for the figures. After a bit he checked a number.  After a while I said, “Look, you are a busy man, I can look for the payments if you tell me the code number. He wrote the number on the paper.  I thanked him, took my bundle of papers, he nodded and went back to his computer.

When I got home I went through the pages – records of withdrawals and deposits.  The only one with the code number he had given me was the one he had checked. 

Once again I asked myself do computers really make work easier, faster, more accurate? They certainly have not saved paper.   Why couldn’t he just punch in the code number and isolate all the withdrawals under that?  Can’t computers do that?  Since the advent of computers the art of letter writing has withered away.

Now person-to-person interaction has been cut to a minimum. I couldn’t tell you what that clerk looked like unless I saw him in profile, and I am sure he can’t remember me.  Meanwhile, I still don’t know how many electric bills I am or am not paying.

For an example of the Comeback Kid, visit Mangiamo
Kudos to the owners of Mangiamo for the willingness and ability to make major changes when their grand new restaurant stumbled. It is now well worth a visit. The venue is high tech with impeccable good taste. Chinese red walls and wine cabinets and neon blue recessed lights and blown glass are beautifully resplendent. Polished metal bar stools and ducts, granite table tops, leather banquettes, wrought iron and pale wood floors create the feeling of a modern Milanese high fashion, trendy club and bistro.
Shortly after it opened, I went there for a simple plate of pasta one lunch hour. There were more waiters than customers and the former looked a little nervous with good reason.  I felt sorry for the owner(s) and decided that I would never review it formally. I was sure that it wouldn’t survive and I wanted no part in contributing to its demise, especially in light of the obvious great care and cost of creating such an attractive space.

The menu was so ambitious that I envisioned a Paul Bocuse army of apprentices, slaving away from early morning to meet expectations. The prices were substantially higher than the nearby competition, and out of the range of all but a small minority of folks who frequent the Santa Ana-to-San Antonio strip.

Few locations in all of Costa Rica are home to more new restaurants than the mile or so north of the San José to Ciudad Colón highway next to the Forum. Ignoring Itzkasu, Santa Ana and Escazú, just along that mile, among the restaurants are three Japanese, two other Italian, a large pizza franchise, two Mexican, an Irish pub, a sports bar, a large Tico Soda, a roast chicken chain outlet, three cafes that serve pastries and light lunches, a deli, a sandwich franchise and a new Italian seafood restaurant.
My first visit plate of pasta was under-sauced and so badly overcooked that the noodles were mush. To add insult to injury, I was charged an extra ¢ 2000 above the already substantial sum, the evening price for a noontime repast.
But lo these many months it stayed open, often with empty or near empty dining rooms (there is a second floor dining room as well, also beautifully appointed and ideal for private parties or meetings). So I returned reluctantly, assuming that a warning to our readers was in order.
What a transformation! What a pleasant surprise! The menu is varied enough to be interesting but manageable. The prices are much lower and in keeping with the upper end competition (euphemism for “still expensive but a decent value”). The food is very good. The pasta is al dente. The sauces taste Italian. The plates are nicely presented. The quality of the ingredients is super.
After a third and equally pleasing visit, I asked a proud, smiling waiter about the chef and if he were new. The original chef was indeed gone. His replacement was a charismatic and charming Tico named Martin with the slender hands and long fingers of an artist. He paid a gracious visit to our table at the behest of the waiter. He is married to an Italian woman and worked in Navara, a city west of Milan for two years before coming home to Costa Rica to try to help resurrect Mangiamo. Before leaving for Italy, he worked at Ponte Vecchio in San Pedro.
Dr. Lenny Karpman

we eat


The table settings are pleasant. The diner is greeted with a basket of evenly toasted garlic cheese rounds and a bowl of warm fresh tomato sauce for dipping. The sauce is excellent and reappears on a number of different dishes.

The attentive wait staff refills ice water glasses and pours bottled beverages without having to be asked. They are well versed in the ingredients of the dishes and seem to really enjoy describing them and serving them.

The dozen or so starters include very nice Caesar and Caprese salads, smoked salmon, carpacchio and fried calamari  in the ¢2,500 – ¢3,500 range. An antipasto platter of buffalo mozzarella, grilled eggplant, prosciutto, Genoa salami and fresh basil is ¢6,200. The soup options (¢1,700 – 2,500) include Tuscan white bean, stracciatella (chicken – spinach –eggdrop), minestrone and seafood.
Among the different pastas, gnocchi, raviolis and risotto, there are more than two dozen choices, all less than ¢4,000 except for two seafood and pasta dishes at ¢5,000 and 6,000.

The chicken, fish, baby beef and veal dishes generally range from ¢4,000 -5,000 with the following few very high end exceptions: two stuffed and/or layered chicken extravaganzas for about ¢7,000, jumbo shrimp dishes for about ¢9,000, roast duckling in orange sauce for ¢12,000 and a four chop rack of lamb for ¢17,000.
Many pleasant surprises include the addition of truffle oil to the carpacchio dressing and mushroom cheese risotto, real Italian sausage in the sausage meat Bologna style spaghetti, nice quality cheese atop the two parmiagianas (grilled eggplant and tender veal) along with the same fresh tomato sauce and decaf coffee with full body and flavor for those of us who enjoy a cup after dinner but don’t want our sleep interrupted.
A nice dessert change of pace is torron (¢1,050), a white mousse drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with pieces of nougat.

If you are among the diners who were disappointed when Mangiamo first opened, you might be pleased if you were to give it a second chance.

Three and a half stars, $$-$$$$

Telephone : 282-0214.
Hours: 11-3 and 6-10 Tuesday thru Thursday. Friday 11-3 and 6-11. Saturday 11-11. Sunday 12-5. Closed Monday.

International Baptist Church readies Thankgiving luncheon for Sunday
The International Baptist Church (IBC), across from Multiplaza, is getting the turkeys ready to roast as members prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this year with their traditional U.S.-style Thanksgiving luncheon to be held in the church Fellowship Hall Sunday. This traditional U.S. Thanksgiving holiday meal to give God thanks for His many blessings will begin at noon, said a church release. It follows the regular morning worship service, which begins at 10 a.m. The covered dish luncheon features turkey provided by the church, with side dishes, salads and desserts brought by members of the congregation, the church said.

Although the worship service is in English, IBC welcomes everyone, whether English is the native
tongue or a second language, and is happy to serve as many as 20 different nationalities throughout the year, said the church. Pastor Paul Dreessen says that no ticket is required and there is no need to sign up for this event.  Snhyone who wants to be a part of this Thanksgiving celebration with the church, just needs to come on Sunday and join in as church members celebrate God’s goodness to us, said the release.

The church is located in Guachipelin de Escazú, west of Multiplaza, on the north side of the Santa Ana Highway.  For more information or details about where the church is located, please call the church (215-2117) or Pastor Dreessen’s cell phone (821-3594) or  e-mail:  paul_dina@hotmail.com

Many of the national publications are claiming that real estate in Costa Rica is grossly overpriced and that the time has come and gone for the land of Pura Vida. True or False?

Well, if you read the classified ads in the English-speaking countries it would seem that a small lot on the beach can run easily in excess of $250,000 and a home in the mountains of trendy Escazú can run well over $500,000. And even a basic home in Heredia can quickly top $300,000.

So . . . has Costa Rican real estate become too expensive?

Can the average "Gringo" still afford to retire here?

The truth? . . . . Take a look at the pictures that are featured here . . . .

Could you retire on a property with views like these?

The properties featured here at CR Home Realty have views like the above . . . and can have a custom home built of top grade quality of between 1,300 and 1,800 sq. ft. . . . and CAN BE PURCHASED FOR BETWEEN $80,000 AND $150,000.  (yes, that includes the land)

. . . minimum lot size almost two acres.

. . . private . . . not a gated community . . . in a secure and safe area
. . . within 45 minutes of the country's major airport and an hour of the country's best shopping

. . . within 15 minutes of a larger town with all amenities including a hospital

. . . utilities close by

. . . all homes are custom built and designed to your specifications. . . . these are not "run of the mill" standard design homes. These are custom-built, top-of-the-line homes. You can even get a totally "no risk," financial guarantee with your purchase and design, if you choose.


Well, we don't blame you for being skeptical. Five years ago we would have said the same thing. BUT . . . . SEEING IS BELIEVING.

CR-HOME REALTY . . . a small firm which over the past two years has gained literally an international reputation and scores of satisfied clients and "believers."

We specialize in helping those seeking to retire in Costa Rica and want to stretch their dollars as far as possible. And we are small enough to offer the best of personalized service and the very best in results.




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A.M. Costa Rica

Fourth news page

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

Home Calendar Place a 
classified ad
Classifieds Real estate  Food About us
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 229


A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
University students pass Mall San Pedro

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
A gathering at Fischel

Free trade foes deliver a show of force to lawmakers
By Selleny Sanabria Soto
José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States made their voices heard Thursday as an estimated 8,000 persons joined in a march to the legislature.

Foes of the treaty called the show of strength a triumph. In addition to teacher and union groups, university students and even high school students were in the march. The Universidad de Costa Rica, among others, canceled classes for much of the day so students could participate. Eugenio Trejos, rector of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, participated, as did legislative deputies Jose Miguel Corrales, Gloria Valerín and Juan Jose Vargas, who also is a presidential candidate.

The march was peaceful and had none of the rowdiness of prior demonstrations, particularly by students.

U.S. President George Bush and former Costa Rican president Óscar Arias Sánchez, a current presidential candidate, came in for their share of abuse via signs and caricatures. Bush because he is Bush and Arias because he backs the free trade treaty.

Marchers began from three points: The Sabana Norte headquarters of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, Parque Central and the Universidad de Costa Rica. At the university, students from a number of schools gathered to march west to eventually end up at Parque Central where they reversed their direction to march back to the Asamblea Legislativa.

Students stopped at a Fischel pharmacy in San José to yell about corruption and the continuing scandal involving Corporación Fischel and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the health services agency. Politicians are accused of extracting a $9 million commission from a loan for medical equipment.

Reporters estimated that about 2,000 to 2,500 were in the student group.

The march was colorful with creative signs and costumes. But motorists who faced an Avenida 2 blocked for much of the day and delays elsewhere were not impressed.

There were groups that were unexpected. A religious group from Limón, Foro Emaus, was described as a group that defends the rights of the people. Danilo Chávez, a representative, said that "The treaty has benefits for a few people, the rich people . . ."

Three schoolboys, Jose Ignasio Abarca, Gerardo Abarca and Leonardo Cascante, came from the Escuela Mario Quirós Sazzo in Tres Rios, Cartago. Politicians never tell the truth to the country, and they are keeping a lot of secrets, the trio said.

Corrales, an outspoken politician, said he is totally against the treaty because of its impact on farmers and that Costa Rica is not prepared. He said the march represented an initial step.

Marchers have to convince the deputies of the Asamblea Legislativa. The treaty was sent to the



legislature by President Abel Pacheco after a long delay. The lawmakers must either approve or reject the treaty. No changes are permitted.

The treaty appears to have sufficient support to win passage.

A lot of the complaints of the marchers were not clearly defined, and many were not based on anything contained in the treaty.

For example, many claimed that the treaty would reduce national sovereignty. That true, of course, but so does every other international treaty entered into by the country, and Costa Rica has approved several free trade treaties this year alone.

Another concern was expressed about losing the capacity to make what has been termed generic drugs. These are drugs that are produced here and elsewhere without royalty payments to the drug companies that developed them in the first place. The treaty does contain strong protection against copyright, trademark and patent piracy.

Vargas was hopeful for changing the treaty. “If Costa Rica does not approve the treaty, we can negotiate a bilateral treaty later because the United States always respects our position,” he said. He is the candidate of the Partido Patria Primera.

Of course a number of marchers oppose the treaty because they work for national monopolies like the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which has a telecommunications lock on the country. The treaty seems to protect cable communication but opens wireless communication to private competition. Since most communication probably will be wireless in the future, the treaty will have a strong impact on the state monopoly.

Similar fears exist in the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the state insurance monopoly, and other government agencies.

There have been many marches against the free trade treaty. For that reason local television looked for a different angle and interviewed street vendors who were making money selling items to protesters.

That reporting immediately drew criticism from treaty opponents who said the stations, principally Channel 7, tried to detract from the march. Protesters also criticized the station's reporting of a poll that showed 54 percent of the citizens in the country support the treaty.

Those in favor of the treaty will march next Thursday. They will be certain types of farmers and employees of firms that expected to benefit from the free trade.

A.M. Costa Rica/Selleny Sanabria Soto
Destination reached: The Asamblea Legislativa

A.M. Costa Rica/Selleny Sanabria Soto
They're a scream

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Dancing girls, too

Initiative and referendum
move closer to approval

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Citizens will have more say in lawmaking if two measures that received preliminary approval Thursday night go into force.

One is a system for a popular initiative to place a proposal before the legislature. The second is a system for a referendum.

The legislature acted under an order from the Sala IV constitutional court that said approval had to be made by Saturday. This order stems from a 2003 court case. The president of the Asamblea Legislativa, Gerardo González Esquivel, had to use his authority to get a vote, which was unanimous among the 41 deputies present. The twin measures probably will be voted on again in a few days.

The initiative requires signatures from 5 percent of the electorate, and the legislature must vote on the proposal one way or the other within two years.

The referendum also requires signatures from 5 percent of the electorate and approval from the legislature. To be valid, a ballot question would need 30 percent of the electorate voting, if the measure is a normal law. For constitutional matters and certain other issues that would require a two-thirds vote if in the assembly, the turnout would have to be 40 percent for the election to be valid. Referendums cannot be conducted on budgetary and certain other items,

Jo Stuart
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