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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 230       E-mail us
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construction continues
Photo by Greg Golojuch
Some deep-pocket projects, like this one in Playa Matapalo, Guanacaste, continue
Brokers chart their course from bonanza to prudence
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican economy is expected to surmount lower real estate activity that will last well into 2009, said representatives from a Costa Rican real estate association during a Tuesday conference on the future of Costa Rican real estate.

“Our economic reality is not necessarily the reality in the United States,” said Roger Álvarez, an architect who is also a member of the association and a representative from the Municipalidad de San José. “We have a stable future ahead of us, but we can't just sit here and wait for people to show up and start investing.”

There is no doubt that the U.S. financial crisis has already impacted Costa Rican markets, said Jaime Ubilla Carro, general manager of Grupo Improsa's Sociedad Administradora de Fondos de Inversion, a financial consulting organization that handles real estate investments. Sales of houses and condominiums have dropped 30 percent so far this year, and most houses have seen their prices drop by 40 percent, he said. He was an invited speaker.

The real estate brokers and those in related businesses met for an all-day session and expressed their opinions at the Hotel San José Palacio.

The building boom, particularly fueled by developers in Guanacaste, is also slowly dragging to a halt. According to national statistics gathered by the Cámara Costarricense de la Construcción, while seven million square meters (1,730 acres) of land has been purchased for development, only four million square meters (about 990 acres) are actually being utilized.

“Essentially, while statistics gathered in July showed that development is up by 17 to 20 percent, this doesn't accurately reflect the fact that less projects are beginning,” said Rodrigo Altmann, general manager of the construction chamber.

As a result, his chamber predicts that it will lose 45,000 jobs in construction by December. It also expects that while development in the coastal region will remain steady, less developers will actually follow through on their projects.

“For every 10 projects that we currently have, two will have to stop because of a lack of finances,” said Altmann.

Costa Rica has already lost $1.2 billion worth of foreign investment, due to developers pulling out of the country. Suspended projects include plans for several major international hotel chains, including Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, Regent and Punto Cacique, Altmann said.

Real estate developers have also been hit hard by the lack of readily available credit, as have many businesses. The Banco Central has reported a minimal 19.6 percent growth in credit and predicts an increase of 17.7 percent in 2009. These were the same projections that the bank gave in 2000 and 2004, when Costa Rica saw a drop in real estate development, Altmann added.
However, not all is gloom and doom in the real estate industry. Offices and commercial real estate continues to do very well, said Ubilla, even while housing sales have dropped.

“We've seen a 30 percent drop in sales,” said Pablo Marín, an agent at Grupo Jormar, a real estate company that develops mainly in San José. “But we're confident that things will improve if the government chooses to inject money in the market.”

Experts said it is precisely the Costa Rican government's hands-on approach to the market which will prevent a massive economic fall-out, as experienced in the United States.

“Costa Rica doesn't have the same liberal loan practices as U.S. banks,” said Mauricio Carranza, vice president of the association, the Cámara Costarricense de Corredores de Bienes Raíces.

“The subprime crisis in the U.S. is unlikely to repeat here, because when the U.S. finally decided to intervene, it was already too late, and the entire market was gripped by fear,” he added.

The Banco Nacional and Banco Costa Rica already have been designated as recipients of $50 million each from the government. The money is intended to help small and medium businesses, not necessarily to assist the housing market.

Experts also said that a more strident immigration law, which would require U.S. rentistas to show at least $5,000 in income a month, was unlikely to further impact the housing market, even if passed in its current form.

“The majority of foreigners who come here are here for just a few months,” said Aleyda Bonilla, a member of the real estate association  “Residents who come down here for development, in terms of real estate, are usually the rentistas who would be able to afford to pay $5,000 a month.”

An ailing housing market must be supported by a steady tourist and export industry, experts agreed. Currently, 60 percent of tourists hail from the U.S., but Costa Rica plans to adjust by expanding to other markets, especially in Latin America and Peru, said Carranza.

Likewise, while the United States purchases 60 percent of Costa Rica's exports, new commercial treaties, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement, would open up Costa Rica's markets to other investors.

An increasingly cozy relationship with China, as evidenced by President Hu Jintao's Monday visit to San José, also is seen widely as a potential market boost.

But whether it comes to the real estate, tourist or financial industry, prudence remains the keyword for 2009. 

“Costa Rica has grown abruptly in the past several years,” said Carranza. “But we don't have a bonanza of golden eggs to go around.”


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quake
Obvservatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico graphic
This readout came from a seismograph in Heredia

Early morning 6.2 quake
was felt all over country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake that was estimated at a magnitude 6.2 struck at a point on the Panamá-Costa Rica border at 12:12 a.m. today.

The epicenter appeared to be a few kilometers inland from the peninsula that both countries share. 

The location was listed by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center to be 55 km (35 miles) west-southwest of David, Panamá, 45 km (30 miles) south-southeast of Golfito and 220 km (135 miles) southeast of San José.

The quake was felt in San José as a short and a long tremor. The duration may have been as much as a minute.

The area of the quake, Punta Burica, and nearby Puerto Armulles in Panamá are a frequent location for such events.  There have been no reports of injuries or damage yet, the  magnitude of the quake is in the danger range.

Online seismographs at the Obvservatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica showed that the quake was felt all over the country.

A quake hit the same area early Dec. 25, 2003, and killed two persons and damaged at least 70 homes. That quake was registered as a 6.3 magnitude.

quake map
U.S. Geological Survey, National    
Earthquake Information Center    
Red dot shows estimated location of quake


Gunman kills woman lawyer
in restaurant execution


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone lured a woman lawyer to her death Tuesday night in Desamparados. The woman died when a gunman shot her three times while she was waiting in a restaurant.

The dead woman was identified informally as Ana Santiesteban Álvarez. A police officer said investigators found a carnet in her pocket that showed she was a lawyer.

She was seated in the Sea Food restaurant in San Rafael Abajo in Desamparados shortly after 6 p.m. when a man entered the establishment, walked up to her and shot her. He fled on a motorcycle.

Police were looking for a man with a white motorcycle helmet.

Employees at the restaurant said that the woman was not a regular and that they did not know her. Police suggested that the killing might be a crime of passion or a contracted hit.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 230

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Cold front causes chills, some rain and a weather alert
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cold front swept through Costa Rica north to south Tuesday and early Wednesday, leaving rain and disturbed weather in its wake.

The national emergency commission issued an alert mainly for the northern zone and the Caribbean slope. Some rain fell in San José Tuesday night.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that some homes had been flooded in the canton of Matina in the Provincia de Limón. Most of the flooding was reported in the community of Cochen, and emergency evaluators were on the scene, the commissions said.

The front also brought chilly and windy weather to the   country. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said such
 conditions would continue for today along with cloudy skies and some rain.

The front is massive, running from the Pacific Ocean in a crescent to the mid-Atlantic. The front passed over San José between 9 and 11 p.m.

The alert covered the cantons of Upala, San Carlos, Los Chiles and Guatuso and all of the Provincia de Limón, the emergency commission said. This is the time of year when the weather switches and the rains become more frequently on the Caribbean coast while the rest of the country enjoys the dry season.

The emergency commissions said that tides were expected to be pushed about two meters higher by the winds, slightly more than six feet. The commission also said that the wind gusts would be from 35 kph (22 mph) to 54 kph (33.5 mph).


Chinese firm is low bidder for third generation cell phones
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad got three bids Tuesday to install the third generation of cell telephones in the country. The bid opening is just the first step in a prolonged process, and officials said that the delivery of the system probably would not be until the second half of 2009.

The bid opening was a repeat. Only one firm, Huawei Technologies Co., entered a bid last time, and representatives of other companies challenged the specifications.

Huawei Technologies, a Chinese firm, was the low bidder this time and offered to do the job for $245 million. ZTE
  Corp. bid  $446.9 million, and Consorcio Ericsson big $340.9 million.

All the bids are good for 90 days, according to the offers, but they are too complex to judge based on the total sum alone. For example, each company offered different amounts of financial guarantees.

The telephone company, known as ICE, said its Junta de Adquisiciones now has 70 days to study the proposals. Any contract must also be reviewed and approved by the Contraloría de la República, the financial watchdog agency.
The project envisions 950,000 new 3-G lines that will allow users to operate their cell telephones as if they were computers hooked to the Internet.


October was a record-setting month in three categories for A.M. Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica had another record month in October. Statistics from an independent source show that 61,545 unique visitors viewed 1,632,755 pages during the month.

This activity generated 5.1 million hits at the newspaper's server. The total hits, the number of pages delivered and the total visits, some 152,196, are records. The number of unique visitors is exceeded only by the 64,090 logged in the month of May.

The total number of visits is verified by another statistical program under the control of the newspaper staff which logged 167,101 total visits during the month. The different numbers are the result of slight differences in the configurations of the statistical programs.

By comparison, the number of pages read by visitors in October is 164 percent greater than those read in October 2005.

A.M. Costa Rica maintains its monthly statistics in public for the benefit of readers and advertisers. A full list is HERE! Most advertisers are aware of the volume of readership by the favorable responses to their ads.

The statistics report is important because it demonstrates continued interest in Costa Rica by those outside the country, despite challenging economic times. The newspaper is read in at least 90 countries every day Monday through Friday, and an average of 51 percent of the readers are in the United States.

Unique visitors are those who are counted just once no matter how many times they visit the newspaper Web site 
Here is how we have grown
in the last three years!

Month
Hits
Readers
Pages read
October  2008
5,075,907 152,196 1,632,755
October 2005
3,192,660 110,441 618,370
Percent increase
60.0%
37.8%
164.0%


in a 24-hour period. A hit is generated every time a file, text, photo or other graphic, is sent from the server to a reader's computer.

Some Web sites are set up to generate excessive numbers of hits because readers have to click four or five times to read a news story. A.M. Costa Rica is not designed that way, and news stories are served up with each page.

The newspaper continues to receive praise from readers because of its extensive coverage of Costa Rican news and of news elsewhere related to Costa Rica. Advertisers also have expressed their pleasure because of their marketing results and because they do not have to spend 50 percent or more of their ad budget to purchase newsprint. They also have said they appreciate the interactivity of their advertising and the instant responses they receive electronically from potential customers.

A.M. Costa Rica is free and on the Web Monday through Friday by 2 a.m. San José time. Nearly 3,000 readers keep in touch with the daily headlines via the separate daily digest that is sent with appropriate links as an e-mail each morning. Readers can subscribe HERE!


You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 230


Chemical cocktails shown to cause decline in some frogs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The decline of some frog species in Costa Rica may be related to pesticides and herbicides. That is suggested by the reports of two recent studies.

Jason Rohr of the University of South Florida and colleagues revealed that chemical pollution can increase often deadly parasitic flatworm infections in the northern leopard frog, a declining amphibian species. They zeroed in on atrazine, a widely used herbicide, and phosphate.

In the University of Pittsburgh, researchers said that 10 of the world's most popular pesticides can decimate amphibian populations when mixed together even if the concentration of the individual chemicals are within limits considered safe. Such “cocktails of contaminants” are frequently detected in nature, the paper notes, and the Pitt findings offer the first illustration of how a large mixture of pesticides can adversely affect the environment.

Rohr published his findings in the journal Nature at the end of October. According to Rohr, identifying the main risk factors and predictors for disease in amphibians is important.  This study showed that atrazine and phosphate concentrations in the Minnesota wetlands they investigated were the best of over 240 plausible predictors of trematode abundance in frogs. In a manipulative experiment conducted in outdoor, 300-gallon tanks, Rohr and colleagues verified that atrazine increased snail abundance, caused amphibian immuno-suppression, and elevated the number of parasitic trematodes in amphibians.

Like canaries used to gauge the safety of air in coal mines, amphibians are thought to be the canaries in freshwater environments. Reductions in their health can warn of subsequent species declines and degradation of ecosystems, said a South Florida press release.

"Atrazine and fertilizers might not be the only chemicals affecting disease risk," said Rohr. "Many chemicals can be immuno-suppressive, and standard toxicity tests used to register chemicals in the United States and Europe are conducted on isolated individuals, ignoring interactions with other species, such as their parasites. Thus, our findings are likely the tip of the iceberg for pollution-induced disease emergence in both humans and wildlife."

At the University of Pittsburgh, Rick Relyea, an associate professor of biological sciences, also experimented with atrazine and other chemicals. He exposed gray tree frogs and leopard frog tadpoles to small amounts of the 10 pesticides that are widely used throughout the world. In addition to atrazine, Relyea selected five insecticides:
leopard frog
Photo by Neal Halstead, University of South Florida
Leopard frogs figured in both studies

carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, endosulfan, and malathion and four other herbicides: acetochlor, glyphosate, metolachlor, and 2,4-D.

Relyea found that a mixture of all 10 chemicals killed 99 percent of leopard frog tadpoles as did the insecticide-only mixture; the herbicide mixture had no effect on the tadpoles. While leopard frogs perished, gray tree frogs did not succumb to the poisons and instead flourished in the absence of leopard frog competitors.

Relyea also discovered that endosulfan, a neurotoxin banned in several nations but still used extensively in U.S. agriculture, is inordinately deadly to leopard frog tadpoles. By itself, the chemical caused 84 percent of the leopard frogs to die. This lethality was previously unknown because current regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency do not require amphibian testing, Relyea said. His results showed that endosulfan was not only highly toxic to leopard frogs, but also that it served as the linchpin of the pesticide mixture that eliminated the bulk of leopard frog tadpoles.

“Endosulfan appears to be about 1,000-times more lethal to amphibians than other pesticides that we have examined,” Relyea said. “Unfortunately, pesticide regulations do not require amphibian testing, so very little is known about endosulfan's impact on amphibians, despite being sprayed in the environment for more than five decades.”

His study was published Nov. 11 in the online journal  Oecologia.

In addition to chemicals and trematode or flukes, the decline of some Costa Rican frog species has been blamed on certain fungus, global warming, loud noise, habitat destruction and competition from other creatures.


Jonestown mass suicide tragedy in Guyana jungles took place 30 years ago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It was 30 years ago Tuesday that more than 900 members of a religious cult lost their lives during a mass suicide known as the Jonestown massacre.

The tragedy took place at a commune in the jungles of Guyana, where the mostly American followers of cult leader Jim Jones went to live and work. Jones had promised his followers heaven on earth, but escapees described the compound as a prison camp.

A U.S. congressman from California who went to investigate Jonestown, Leo Ryan, was shot to death by
cult members on an airstrip Nov. 18, 1978, along with a church defector and three members of the media.

Back at the compound, Jones, backed by armed guards, forced his followers to drink juice laced with cyanide in a suicide ritual. Elderly people and children were among the hundreds killed that day.

Jones was found shot in the head, though it is not clear if he killed himself or if someone else did.

Survivors and relatives of the victims are marking the 30th anniversary of the massacre with a ceremony at a cemetery in California, where hundreds of victims are buried.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 230



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.

Searching
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.

Newspages
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.

Classifieds
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.

Statistics
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.


Entrepreneurs encouraged
by local incubator group

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Are entrepreneurs born or made? A Costa Rican non-profit is betting on the latter as it joined at least 76 other countries in celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The Costa Rican organization is Parque Tec, a non-profit that helps startups, other firms and people with ideas to gain a market foothold, sometimes by providing space and assistance.

The international entrepreneurship week ends Sunday, and Parque Tec is having a conference Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the Hotel Radisson. The organization said its workers will outline how the business incubation process works. They also are inviting entrepreneurs to nominate their projects for help. The organization is on the Web at  www.parquetec.org, and can be reached at incubadora@parquetec.org.

The deadline for application is Dec. 10, the organizxation said. It added that it now hosts 15 companies. It is financed by the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo.
 
Worldwide the week's big name supporters include Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Singaporean President S.R. Nathan, Californian Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Aníbal Cavaco Silva President of Portugal.

Global Entrepreneurship Week, the world’s first-ever celebration of enterprising behavior, comes at a time of massive economic change.

Organizers said they aim to connect enterprising young people with their counterparts all over the world, and ultimately create a global movement of entrepreneurial people.

Globally more than 13,000 events are taking place in 77 countries involving an estimated five million people, from Bolivia to Bulgaria and Mexico to Mozambique, organizers said.

Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the sonsoring Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation said: “For seven days, millions of young people around the world will be introduced to entrepreneurship and encouraged to think about how innovation can take them anywhere, no matter their location on the map.

Young people can talk to others around the world in the forums at www.unleashingideas.org.

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