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(506) 223-1327               Published Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 233                  E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Expats nurse their pocketbooks after a 4 percent hit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats were playing the what-if game today after  financial authorities here devalued the U.S. dollar.

The result is that when a person goes to a bank with dollars, they will walk away with fewer colons. Ticos will find that their colons will buy more dollars. The difference is about 4 percent.

Wednesday Ticos needed 521 colons to purchase a U.S. dollar. Thursday they only needed about 500 colons. The exact amount depended on the bank or exchange house.

The losers are tourists who change their dollars into colons and business operators who accept dollars and pay their employees in colons. Those with foreign pensions denominated in dollars also are losers, as are landlords who have leases with tenants in dollars.

Anyone with large amounts of dollars in Costa Rican banks will find that their money will purchase fewer colons. So expats are wondering if they should keep the bulk of their money in dollars, colons or perhaps euros. One expat with a large bank account in dollars said he lost $5,000 against the colons due to the central bank action.

The reason for the devaluation is the weakening of the dollar all over the world due to the U.S. financial troubles and the war in Iraq.

The Banco Central de Costa Rica did not call what its board of directors did Wednesday night a devaluation. What happened was that the board changed the values at which it would intervene to protect the colon.

As of Thursday the new ceiling for bank purchase of dollars is  498.39 colons. The new ceiling for banks selling of dollars is  562.83 colons. In the future the central bank will reduce the floor for purchase by six centimos every business day. The ceiling for selling dollars also will be increased by six centimos.

As the business day opened most banks and money exchange houses offered rates that were around 495 for purchasing dollars and around 500 to 505 colons for the sale of dollars.

The central bank said it made the move to reduce the domestic inflation rate. The bank said it was widening the range or band in which money exchange transactions take place to allow market forces to determine the rates.

The central bank also said that it did not have to intervene in more than 90 percent of the exchange
money exchange kiosk
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Business went on as usual at the Banco Nacional money exchange kiosk in downtown San José Thursday. Most tourists did not know their dollars were worth less.

transactions that took place in the last 45 days. The central bank credited the country's international monetary reserves and fiscal discipline for stabelizing the colons.

For more than 20 years, the Banco Central had been defending the colon by establishing fixed daily rates for buying and selling the colon currency. The rates varied slightly among commercial banks. Someone with a stack of colons could go to sleep at night knowing that the cash would be worth only slightly less against the dollar the next morning. The rate to buy dollars on Aug. 1, 2006, was 514.96. Aug. 22, 2006, the rate was 516.25, a difference of just 1.29 colons or about a quarter of a U.S. cent.

The problem was that the central bank went in the hole $2.8 billion defending the colon. So in December 2006 the bank established the bands or limits with which normal trading would take place. That system continues but with a wider gap in which transactions can take place without the central bank getting involved.

With the free trade treaty probably about to go into effect, U.S., goods will be slightly cheaper for Costa Ricans who have to convert colons to dollars to buy them.

Many tourism operators are likely to raise their rates to compensate for their fixed costs that are in colons.

Arias does not appear pleased after meeting with Daniel Ortega
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The question on everyone's mind after the meeting of two heads of state Thursday is why did Óscar Arias Sánchez look so unhappy.

Arias met with Daniel Ortega Saavedra, the president of Nicaragua. The day did not begin well with Ortega arriving at Juan Santamaría airport nearly three hours late.

The two men spoke privately, and there was no way of knowing what transpired.

A Casa Presidencial press release said that the men agreed on the need for a joint commission to discuss matters of importance between the two countries. Such a commission has been reinstated after nearly 10 years of disuse.

Ortega was all smiles as he left Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry on Avenida 7. He bent down and kissed two children and engaged in conversation with others who approached him. Security was present but did not intervene. A group of individuals gave him a clenched fist salute.

Arias appeared glum as he entered a second car and was driven away. Security was tighter around him with four men in suits standing in the middle of the street between visitors and Arias. The discussions took place at the foreign ministry even though distinguished visitors usually visit Arias at his Rohrmoser home.

The Casa Presidencial summary said that the two men continued talking about the Río San Juan situation in the hopes of reaching a friendly solution. Diplomatic talk aside, there was no announcement on this situation that has both countries before the World Court in the Hague. Costa Rica is fighting for free transit on the river that is in Nicaraguan territory but also the only feasible way to move around large parts of
Arias and Ortega
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
President Óscar Arias Sánches and Daniel Ortega Saavedra at the door to Casa Amarilla, the foreign mininstry.

northern Costa Rica near the border. Costa Rica is supposed to present part of its case to the World Court in January. Nicaragua has until July to respond.

The two men also are believed to have discussed immigration. Large numbers of Nicaraguans are living legally and illegally here. Coffee farmers are bringing some 11,000 Nicaraguans into the country as temporary workers because of the labor shortage  in getting the harvest.

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Measure to be introduced
to ban shark finning here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative deputy said Thursday that she soon would introduce a measure to make shark finning illegal.

Finning is the practice of catching sharks for the sole purpose of cutting off their fin for the lucrative Oriental trade. The wounded shark then is unable to navigate and dies.

The legislative deputy is Ofelia Taitelbaum, a former biology professor, who is associated with the government's Partido Liberación Nacional.

In addition to prohibiting shark finning, she said her measure would prohibit the shipment or stockpiling of shark fins in Costa Rica.

She also asked in a press release that the Comisión de Ambiente of the assembly open an investigation into the practice. Shark finning has been a steady business in Costa Rica even though a number of laws appear to be broken by the fishermen who bring the catches to shore.

In some cases they tape a shark fin on the carcass of a dead fish to conform with the rule that says the fin can only come ashore if attached to a shark. Ms. Taitelbaum said she would reform the law to stipulate that the fin must be attached to the shark in a natural form.

The general belief is that Costa Rican officials have not cracked down on shark finning because Asian governments that provide aid to the country have an interest in the practice continuing. Shark fins are used in Asia cooking.

The proposed law would provide criminal penalties of from six months to two years for those involved in the shark fin trade.

The measure also would have penalties for the owners of private docks where the practice is carried on.

Interest in sharks is heightened because the movie "Sharkwater" is playing in local theaters. The film has been given subtitles in Spanish. The movie is the product of  Canadian documentalist Rob Stewart, who traveled in Costa Rican waters aboard the Ocean Warrior with conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The ship's crew confronted illegal shark fishermen, which Stewart and his crew filmed.

Watson has criticized what he calls Costa Rica's continued corrupt involvement with the illegal shark fin trade.

Most measures proposed in the Asamblea Legislativa never are passed, and even those that are frequently take years. There was no word how much support Ms. Taitelbaum has for her proposal.

Christmas festival to run
two weekends downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Circus acts, stories, music and dance will combine this weekend and next for the Festival Navideño at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura in north San José.

Tropical-themed Christmas decorations will adorn the entrance, courtesy of artist Carlos Vargas, and artists from around Curridabat will be selling their produce.

The program will start Saturday with a theatrical presentation at 11 a.m, and continues throughout the day with marimba and guitar music, finishing up with a circus display at 5 p.m.

Sunday's highlights include a performance of the Brazilian dance-martial art Cappoeira at 1 p.m.

The following weekend, the festival will continue with music and story-telling, including a concert on the Charanga – a small stringed Andean instrument – at 2 p.m., and a marimba display at 5 p.m. Dec. 2. Costa Rican rock band Ghandi will round off the activities with a concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 3.

Latin America is called
source of future talent

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Latin America will be a major source of talent for the new global marketplace, according to a study conducted by the employment services firm Manpower, Inc.

The study was discussed in a conference Wednesday afternoon at the Aurola Holiday Inn in downtown San José. Globalization of talent and mobility of workers will play a key role in the transformation of Latin America, said the firm.

The study concluded this expected mobility in the workforce is because many developed markets are looking to attract new talent. The need for people to improve their quality of life and the revolution of technology are also important factors in the idea of mobility.

In order to reach its conclusion, the firm analyzed world population and its predicted growth in the next 20 years, effects of social mobility on the lives of individuals, interexchange among students around the world, systems of education, and penetration of the Internet in various countries. The firm predicted 400 million Internet users in Latin America by 2015.

A main point mentioned in the study was the difference between “migration” and “mobility.” As opposed to migration, the idea of mobility does not include a change of career or permanent residency. According to Manpower, this “mobility” of talent and workforce will increase rapidly in the next 20 years.

Manpower said that mobility of talent and resources is vital to both people and businesses in the new global market  because it increases: access to new information, economic opportunities, innovation, and competitivity.

Telecommunications law goes
to full Asamblea Legislativa

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The full legislature has begun to study a law that is designed to strengthen the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The measure was considered in committee and has now gone to the floor.

Three separate summaries of the measure were presented by members of the special committee that studied the proposal.

This measure is one of the 12 laws that make up the package of changes that must be enacted to comply with the free trade treaty with the United States. Under the treaty the monopoly telecommunications institute would face competition.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 233

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Expats overwhelmed Gringo restaurants seeking turkey
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats turned out in force Thursday to do damage to turkey and all the fixings.

Barbara Jupiter at her new Restaurant Azúcar in Santa Ana said she was overwhelmed and had to turn people away. "Out of control," she laughed.

She said that the two sittings she had planned merged into one. As the lunch crowd was finishing up their turkey dinners, people kept coming, so she said she just kept on serving. Diners came from all over the Central Valley and at least one couple from Dominical dropped by because they happened to be in the area, she said.

At the Sportmen's Lodge in San Jose's north side, owner Bill Alexander said he quickly went through 15 turkeys and estimated he could have used at least seven more. He had many more guests than he expected, he said.

Among those left there in search of a turkey dinner were individuals who had gone to a downtown casino restaurant and found out that the turkey being served was really chicken and that the stuffing was just wet bread with chopped up hot dogs, they said.

At Bar Poás on Avenida 7, owner Harry Hart said that he had a crowd that overflowed into the street.  He put on an afternoon buffet for his regular customers.

Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Costa Rica, so expats have to skip work or rearrange their schedules to enjoy a turkey dinner. Only a handful of restaurants recognize the special day, and some local chefs are not skilled at preparing turkey.

The staff in one top-ranked hotel several years ago put on an elaborate buffet with underdone turkey that defied the knife. There were no such complaints Thursday at places where North Americans were in charge.

Some expats are waiting for the weekend to prepare the
Harry hart
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Harry Hart presides over his buffet at Bar Poás

tradition meal at home because they have more free time then. Unity Costa Rica in Piedades de Santa Ana will be having a traditional dinner after services Sunday about 12:30 p.m.

The question: Will it be the city life or the simple life?
The urge to march to a different drummer is coming upon me. Well, not exactly march, but I just cannot adjust happily to 8 a.m desayuno, 12 noon almuerzo and 5 p.m. cena. One of the joys of living alone is eating when you are hungry, not to mention, eating what you like and cooking it yourself.

Of course, then there are dishes to wash. I think Dante’s First Circle of Hell for me would be to have to wash a sinkload of dishes while walking on an uphill treadmill.

At lunch Marina and I discussed joining forces to write a murder mystery — one, coincidentally that takes place in an assisted living residence like this. I shall miss Marina if I move. Besides being a friend to talk to, she makes me laugh. The names of the help here just don’t stick with me. I cannot relate them to anything. I don’t see them in my mind, and I can’t figure out how they are spelled. So this week, when for about the third time, I asked Marina the name of our somewhat new and incompetent waitress in the dining room, she just gave me an amused, slightly exasperated look and said, "Shirley MacLaine." That, I can remember.

My future as a mystery writer notwithstanding, lately I have been weighing the pros and cons of staying here or moving into an apartment in San José. I used to make decisions by listing the pros and cons of a choice in my life, and the longest list won. I did that before my first marriage. Perhaps there is a more foolproof method for a successful decision.

Last night when I walked over to the exercise room, I thought how nice it was to be able to take a walk after dark on a warm evening and feel perfectly safe. That is a plus for the Residence, but by the same token, my comings and goings in the evenings are recorded by the guard who unlocks the gate for me.

Last Saturday I was in the city hoping to accomplish a few errands.

After an hour of frustration in a taxi in traffic trying to get to a destination that I could have walked to had I wanted to risk being a pedestrian, I discovered that where I was
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

going was closed. But why all the traffic on a Saturday? Once Saturdays were quite tranquil in the city. Of course, Christmas is coming — well, it is a month away but in Costa Rica, Christmas begins to arrive in September. The growing traffic jams in the city is a negative. However, living in Belén does not mean that I can avoid the city. There are many reasons I must go there, both for pleasure and business.

The country club to which I have free access would be a big draw if I used it more often. I have yet to swim in the any of the three pools, and there is only Marina with whom to play miniature golf or pool, and she is often away.

And finally, I am not sure that being surrounded by people in various stages of Alzheimer's is a good environment for me. I would much prefer my friends — for whom I am very thankful.

I have, now, however, a much better idea about what would be the ideal assisted living situation for me and many others in my situation. I would simply like my life simplified — not in the sense of "back to nature simple," but rather, I would like to live without being concerned about the various tramites that accrue with modern living. I don’t want to have to deal with the tramites (procedures) that are involved in having a telephone, Internet, electricity or housekeeping, or having to wait in line for my prescriptions to be filled at the Caja pharmacy, or having to remember my doctors’ appointments.

Actually, now that I think about it, I have just about everything right here. The only things lacking are healthy delicious meals and having my friends living near me. Maybe that is why Marina and I began talking about writing a murder mystery that takes place in an assisted living facility?

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 233

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French president urges Uribe to let Chávez continue negotiating with rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged his Colombian counterpart to resume negotiations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is trying to free hostages held by Colombian leftist rebels.

A spokesman for Sarkozy Thursday said the French leader hopes Colombian President Álvaro Uribe will continue discussions with Chávez.  The spokesman said Sarkozy believes Chávez has the best chance of securing the release of the hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

Uribe announced the end of talks between his country's main rebel group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, and Chávez in a statement Wednesday.
The statement said the role of Chávez as a mediator was canceled because he violated an agreement with Uribe not to speak directly with the head of the Colombian armed forces, Gen. Mario Montoya.
The Venezuelan leader spoke to Montoya to get information about 45 hostages being held by the rebels.

Uribe's decision is a major setback in efforts to secure the release of the hostages, including three U.S. contractors.  He had given conditional approval for Chávez to meet with rebel leader Manuel Marulanda in Caguan in southern Colombia.

The rebels are demanding the release of rebels held in government prisons in return for freeing the hostages.

Sarkozy has made freeing the French-Colombian Betancourt one of his foreign policy priorities. 

Ms. Betancourt was running for the Colombian presidency when she and her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, were abducted in 2002 and taken into the jungle.

Chávez and Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba began holding talks with rebel leaders back in August. 

Press group says it is concerned that reforms by Chávez threatens media freedom
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S.-based media advocacy group says it is concerned that constitutional reforms proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could threaten press freedom in the country.

The Miami-based Inter American Press Association voiced concerns after meetings with media executives and union leaders in Caracas, Venezuela. The association delegation says the proposed measures include detention without
charges and controls on the news media if Chávez declares a state of emergency.

Venezuelans will vote on the reforms in a referendum Dec. 2. The proposal also includes eliminating presidential term limits.

The country's opposition parties, human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church have condemned the proposals.

Note: A.M. Costa Rica is a member of the Inter American Press Association.

Wood as a source of energy has up and down sides, U.S. agency says in report
By the A.M. Costa Rica Wire services

The U. N. Food and Agriculture Organization says using more energy from wood could cut greenhouse gases and reduce poverty.

High oil prices, the need for secure energy supplies and worries about climate change are all increasing interest in bio-fuels, including wood, said the agency.
But the agency's report this week cautions that growing demand for the world's most important bio-fuel might also lead to deforestation and other problems.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says using more wood for fires, or as a source of liquid bio-fuels, could raise the price of wood for other uses. Wood is already the dominant source of energy for about two billion of the world's people, particularly in developing nations.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 233

New surf circuit will begin Dec. 8 for Copa Mango in Jacó
By Anne Clark
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Circuito Nacional de Surf returns Dec. 8 in front of the Copacabana Hotel in Jacó.  The national and resident surfers get ready to begin a new chapter, where they will try to claim the title from the reigning champion Diego Naranjo.

José Ureña, the president of the surf federation, said that the talent level of the national circuit is very high. Champion Naranjo said he believes the competition will become even fiercer because so many surfers are hungry to win.

Ureña said he believes the circuit will become even stronger as the leagues for young surfers grow.  The circuit has male and female surfing divisions for under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-18, totalling 151 young competitors.   "It is necessary to develop these categories
since they will be the bases of the future selections," said Ureña.

The circuit has seven scheduled competition dates throughout Costa Rica.  The Copa Mango competition is the first, and it is in front of the Hotel Copa Cabana in Jacó Dec. 8 and 9.  Trofeo OP is the second date and it will be contested at the Hotel Backyard in Playa Hermosa Jan. 13 and 14.  The third date, Torneo Witch´s Rock at Playa Tamarindo, is Feb. 2 and 3.

The fourth date will be in Playa Nosara Feb. 23 and 24.  In Playa Carmen (Malpaís) the competition will take place March 15 and 16.  The sixth meeting is April 5 and 6 at Playa Dominical. 

The final competition will be the La Gran final Terraza Reef, at the Hotel Terraza del Pacífico in Playa Hermosa April 26 and 27.

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