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(506) 2223-1327       Published Monday, Dec. 1, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 238       E-mail us
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emergency aid
Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias photo
With a break in the weather, Sunday was a day for distributing food, water and other necessities to isolated communities on the Caribbean coast  But more rain is on the way, according to predictions by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. See story HERE!


Solís wants Arias to work with U.S. Dems on treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States are placing their bets on Barack Obama and a group of U.S. congressmen who want a full-scale review of such agreements. Obama has suggested he might be open to renegotiating some trade agreements.

The less temperate opponents here are calling for civil disobedience and a boycott of goods brought to the country under the trade agreement.

Among the less shrilled is Ottón Solís, who wrote a letter to President Óscar Arias Sánchez last week urging him to establish an alliance with U.S. congressmen who want to improve the treaty.

According to Solís, a renegotiated free trade treaty would reduce the excessive privilges given corporations and respect the values of democracy, human rights, religious liberty, workers' rights and the protection of the environment. Under the treaty, corporate and individuals investors have the right to international arbitration if they believe they have been treated unfairly by a host country,

Solís also noted that another group of U.S. congressmen also exists who would increase the protectionism in U.S. law to the detriment of foreign importers.

Solís wants Arias to create a working group to join with U.S. congressmen in favor of renegotiations. That would include U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine and Sen Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Both are Democrats. Michaud came to Costa Rica with  U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont to speak against the treaty a year ago. He represents Maine's Second Congressional District where the paper mills face strong competition from foreign sources. He is a paper mill worker himself and a conservative Democrat.

Brown represents what has been called the U.S. rust belt where heavy industry, particularly steel, has crumbled in the face of foreign competition. Brown's office also said he worked with Obama on legislation that would establish a patriot corporations act, which would reward companies that create jobs in the United States and the forewarn act, which would strengthen worker protections during layoffs.

Michaud and Brown have introduced the trade reform, accountability, development and employment act, known as TRADE.

The act, if passed would require a review of existing trade agreements and a renegotiation of existing trade agreements based on that review, said Michaud's office. The proposal would set terms of what must and must not be included in future trade agreements, and expresses the sense of the Congress that the role of Congress in trade policymaking should be strengthened, it said.

The proposal, if passed, would require a vote of Congress before a trade agreement is signed. Now lawmakers either have to accept or reject such agreements but they cannot modify them.

If passed, the proposal would require the General Accounting Office to conduct reviews of existing 
trade agreements by June 10, 2010, and provide an analysis against the detailed description in the bill of what must and must not be included in future U.S. trade agreements, according to a congressional summary.

Some 75 members of Congress are believed to have cosponsored the bill. Although the trade agreement is an international treaty in Costa Rica, it was approved as a law in the United States. So change is possible there.

Solís has been actively seeking renegotiation since Costa Rican voters passed the agreement by a three-point margin Oct. 7, 2007.  Just 12 days later he published an opinion piece online that summarized arguments against the measure.

"The fundamental problem is that, on many issues, CAFTA would give multinational corporations more power than our government," he said, using the acronym of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. "For instance, if a corporation thought that a new environmental regulation or a democratically decided performance requirement interfered with the company's interests, it could sue Costa Rica in a court located outside our territory, regardless of where the corporation registers its operations."

Solís also said that intellectual property protections exceed U.S. patent law and the regulations of the World Trade Organization, the agreement will reduce access to generic drugs and thereby increase the price of medicines.

These were all arguments that had been raised during the campaign leading up to the referendum.

The agreement is very good for multinational corporations and a very small elite of Central Americans, said Solís. He also said that the White House interfered in Costa Rica's internal affairs, weighing in with statements that echoed false threats that the "yes" side had been spreading.

Solís, of course, will be a presidential candidate on the ballot for the Partido Acción Ciudadana in February 2010. So he may get the chance to take direct action regarding the free trade treaty.

In contrast to the reasoned arguments of Solís and others, the organization Costa Rica En Acción has not been shy about branding the free trade referendum a fraud. The organization is best known for its searing e-mails.  Since the agreement was approved fraudulently, citizens have no obligation to obey it, the organization argues.

The organization also is unhappy with Acción Ciudadana deputies who let the final implementing measure for the free trade treaty pass in the Asamblea Legislativa.

In addition to undefined civil disobedience and a local boycott, the group also calls for boycotts in other countries. There is no indication how many persons the group represents.

Left out of the renegotiation discussions are the other parties to the agreement: Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 238

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Another rainy cold front
heads for Caribbean coast


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Stay tuned for another cold front.  That's the word from the weather forecasters.

The front was passing over Honduras late Sunday and likely to arrive over Costa Rica later today. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the front would produce an increase in winds Tuesday and bring rain back to the Caribbean. The influence of the front is expected to continue through Thursday, the Institute said.

The Caribbean is still reeling after serious flooding and damage.

But Sunday it was the Pacific coast's turn. The national emergency commission said that flooding of the Río Paquita forced 50 residents of the Quepos area from their homes and into a nearby school, which is serviced as a shelter. The heavy rains there and in the Central Valley Sunday were attributed to a preview of the coming cold front.

The weather institute said that December is usually the month with the most rain in the Caribbean. The 6,096 persons forced from their homes last week can vouch for that.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that the number being housed in shelters Sunday was down to 1,406, thanks to improvements in the weather. Most of those were being housed in the Cantón de Talamanca.  The commission said shelters still were in operation in Sixaola, in Volio, in Amubri, in Celia, in Catracho and Margarita as well as three in Olivia, two in Catarina and two in Paraíso.  All the shelters in Matina were closed by Sunday midday.

Shelters were open in Siquirres in the El Cairo district with 79 persons and in Guácimo with 91 persons, the commission said.

Some 30 native communities in the mountains of Talamanca and 17 more in Matina, Turrialba and Limón received food, water and medical attention Sunday.

Helicopters rented by the commission were suplemented by other craft from the U.S. Southern Command. Donations still are being sought for the flood victims and are being collected at various supermarkets and Cruz Roja offices.

A team of 48 U.S. military personnel and seven helicopters from the Honduras-based Joint Task Force-Bravo went to Panama and Costa Rica, said the Southern Command.

Tuesday the Southern Command diverted the U.S. Navy frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts from the eastern Pacific to Panamá to provide assistance. The ship's crew conducted damage assessments through Saturday before returning to its original mission in support of U.S. counter-illicit trafficking operations, the command said.

A state of emergency had been declared in Panamá as well as in Costa Rica.

The commission notes that the high emergency alert in the Caribbean lasted 15 days.

Barber to expats, Roy Black,
dies while in hospital


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Roy Black Vasqez, who worked for more than 60 years as a barber, has died.

The news came from a traditional advertisement placed in La Nación Sunday by Hotel Dunn Inn. The ad contained little information execpt that the hotel regretted profoundly the death of its beloved barber.

Black was 75 in September when he told a reporter he was facing a heart bypass operation. His barber shop was frequented by many expats in the Dunn Inn parking lot off Avenida 11.  Black noted at that time the operation was risky, and he said he doubted that he would live until he was 100 as many customers suggested.

A clerk at the hotel Sunday said that she undrstood that Black died Thursday in a hospital, but she had no other information.

In Costa Rica obituaries seldom appear in newspapers unless the individual is famous. Instead, companies and friends publish display ads expressing their sorrow.

Man is suspect in crime wave
of Montezuma tourists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Everyone likes Montezuma on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. According to investigators, that includes a man from Ciruelas de Alajuela who has been preying on tourists who go to that town. Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization executed a search warrant last week in search of a suspect in the aggravated robbery of a tourist in a Motezuma hotel.

What they found was more than just evidence of a robbery. In the man's living quarters agents found a variety of backpacks, fine watches, cell telephones, some with U.S. chips, money from various countries, tools, hotel keys and other material linking the man to tourist sites in Montezuma, said agents. They also said they found luggage claim checks from the San José-Montezuma bus route.

Agents presumed that the luggage was stolen in the San José bus terminal.

Man held after double shooting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in San José have detained a presumed robbery victim who shot two men, one fatally. The arrested man, identified by the last names of Valverde Vargas, was the intended victim of two men, but Valverde had a pistol. Dead at Avenida 6, calle 10, was a 27-year-old man identified by the last names of Badilla Pérez. A companion was wounded in the legs.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 238



threekids

Francisco Carranzo, Carlos Alberto Alvarez and Oswaldo Villalobos of San Jerónimo, Moravia, do not mind rain.
older boyero
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Elyssa Pachico
Arturo Arrollo of Atenas has been handling oxen since he started school.
Some boyeros would prefer the friendly, small town event
By Elyssa Pachico
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José's 12th annual oxcart parade, known as the entry of the saints, is nothing to sneeze at, admitted Arturo Arrollo, a 70-year-old oxcart handler, or boyero, from Atenas. The parade, which kicks off Christmas festivities in the capital, is a showcase both for boyeros and their massive oxen. The animals pull delicately painted, brightly colored traditional oxcarts from Paseo Colón to Avenida Segunda, a highway usually occupied by taxis and buses belching black smoke.

Still, said Arrollo, who said he had been handling oxen since he started school, San José doesn't hold a candle to the smaller oxcart parades held in tiny villages across the country.

“Here in San José, you'll have something like 300 pairs of oxen marching, while in Atenas you won't have more than 100, 150 pairs,” he said. “But in the country, they do it much more traditionally, and they make an effort to make the atmosphere much happier.”

Oxcart parades in the country usually incorporate mascaradas – parades of grotesque masks – and traditional bands, he said.

“It's just prettier the smaller it is,” he said.

Fernando Cordoba, a farmer from Heredía who woke up at 4 a.m. in order to transport his oxen to San José in time for the festivities, agreed there was just a certain something missing from the capital's parade. And as the rain continued to drench the boyeros and a tiny crowd of spectators clutching umbrellas, that “certain something” wasn't just good weather.

“In the country we just make it more of a parade,” said Cordoba, adding that he was looking forward to a smaller oxcart procession next Sunday in San Isidro. “It's more personalized, more familiar – you're attended to better. You hold raffles, there's a special lunch and reception for the boyeros, there's a dance. There's none of that here.”

Boyeros began their rainy march from Parque La Sabana at 9 a.m.. They took their oxen down Avenida Segunda, lead by a small, very damp group of traditional dancers, before finishing at Avenida 20 and Calle 9.
 
“The rain doesn't hurt us. We work like this in the fields all the time,” said Gonzalo Sanabría, a farmer from Cartago whose 2-year-old oxen were participating in their third parade. “It's just a pity there weren't more people.”

The oxcarts showcased in the parade were once a common sight on Costa Rica's rutted roadways in the 19th century. Before the construction of the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad, which was officially inaugurated in 1910, oxcart were the primary means of transporting coffee beans and other goods cross-country.

The carts, which use spokeless wheels to cut through the mud, are recognizable for their lively designs of flowers, landscapes and geometric shapes. The most famous designs come from the small artisan town Sarchí where farmers still purchase handmade carts, selecting the design and the colors themselves.

“You can buy carts in Sarchí between 800,000 to a million colons,” $1,500 to $1,870) said Arrollo, who no longer farms but works part-time as a volunteer in Panaca national
carreta with San José
St. Joseph and the Christ Child made the trip thanks to these two bueyes.

park. “I remember I bought mine 40 years ago for 15,000 (about $30).” The colon was a lot stronger then.

Inflation has also affected the price of cattle.

“Forty years ago, you could buy a pair of oxen for four or five thousand colons" (now about $8 or $10), he said. “Now that same pair goes for 3 million colons” (perhaps $5,600).

Training the sometimes cranky oxen to pull the expensive carts is another matter and often takes one to two years, said many boyeros. While rain may not bother the animals, the hubbub of the big city is a different story.

“They get tired after standing around for three or four hours, or else they get nervous after being inside the truck for too long,” said Arrollo.

To relax, he said, the animals chew cud. “It's their way of taking a siesta,” he said.

San José's national parade featured boyeros from all over the country, including some from Guanacaste who had to leave on Saturday and stay overnight in the Parque la Sabana in order to make it to Sunday's festivities. Farmers who do not own their own trucks can rent a vehicle, paying about 6,000 colons ($11.25) per ox, as did Alexander Viales, a farmer from Santa Cruz, in Cartagena, Guanacaste.

The longer journey was worth it, he said, in order to show off Guanacaste's special breed of cattle – and boyeros. “The oxen from Guanacaste have bigger horns, and we use bigger yells to drive them, to let you know we're coming,” he said, alluding to the traditional cries of esa (stop), gui (go) and fa (bad cow) that boyeros use.

“I actually have no idea if the cows actually understand those commands, but we do it anyway,” said Nelson Gustamante from Guayabo de Mora, a village near Ciudad Colón. “We use them because it's tradition.”

Regardless of San José's lack of small town feel and the never-ending rain, tradition remained the primary draw for many boyeros to make what can be a long, expensive journey to the capital.

“It's one day a year where you're identified and recognized,” said Cordoba. “Working with bueyes every day is something that our ancestors did. So coming to the parade, it's like a debt you have to pay.”


Lawmaker says immigration bill OK due before Christmas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If there was any doubt that the administration would be railroading the new immigration bill, they were dismissed Sunday when the security ministry said that the bill would be approved before lawmakers left on the Christmas vacation in 15 days.

The release from the security ministry credited the comment to Jorge Méndez, a legislator and member of the  Comisión de Seguridad. While on a visit to Cariari and Guapiles, Cantón de Pococí, Méndez said that an agreement has been reached among the various political parties represented in the Asamblea Legislative to get all five security bills passed before the vacation.

The new immigration bill is being considered a security measure because it tightens residency requirements and also addresses improvements in the Policía de Migración and also human trafficking.

Lawmakers are anxious to pass something to show concerned citizens that they are working even though the various bills are not comprehensive.

One bill is designed to protect crime victims and witnesses from retaliation.  Another bill would let the government learn whenever a resident receives a large sum of money in a bank account. A third bill changes some of the penal code.   Méndez said that the multiple offenders would face
preventative detention and that thefts of any amount would be prosecuted. Now tradition limits prosecution of crimes where the value involved is less than $100.

Additional changes address trafficking in weapons, money laundering and trade in human organs, according to Méndez. A bill against organized crime would allow a liberal program of eavesdropping.

Janina del Vecchio, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, was with Méndez on the visits. She supervised the delivery of four new motorcycles to the Fuerza Pública in Cariari and of eight new motorcycles to the Fuerza Pública in Guápiles.

The security minister also said that a recent study showed that there were 264 persons devoted to crime on the Caribbean coast. There was no further explanation.

The immigration bill is the one that would raise the financial requirements for pensionados form $600 a month to $2,000 and for rentistas from $1,000 a month to $5,000. Many expats believe that the proposed limits are too high.

The bill also is faulty because it only mentions inversionistas but does not define the residency category.

The bill also seems to say that current pensionados and rentistas will be required to meet the new financial requirements when their term of resident is renewed.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 1, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 238


Our readers opinions
Drop in dollar vs. colon is annual event and is predictable

By Edward Bridges*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This is the time of year when the Banco Central always lowers the value of the U.S. dollar against the colon.  Also, very predictably, the biggest drop occurs around the last week of November.  For the examples below I use the Scotia Bank exchange rate which I track daily.

This year, in eight days, the central bank dropped the value of the U.S. dollar by 3.95 percent (21.75 points) from 551.75 on Nov. 20 to 530.00 as of noon on Friday.   It could go lower.

I am predicting this dramatic drop will now start to slow down in the next five months, but expats can plan on the the U.S. dollar steadily dropping in value until the end of April or beginning of May, when the high season ends.  I also predict this gradual drop for the next five months will probably not exceed an additional 1.5 percent to 2 percent or 8 to 9 points.  So we just went though the biggest drop of the year in the shortest time period.

But expats should not panic and change all of their dollars into colons, unless they expect to spend all those colons over the next five months.  However, if they are planning to make a big purchase in colons over the next five months, the gradual drop in the U.S. dollar is very, very predictable
 during this period, so by all means it is better to change dollars now rather than tomorrow or later.

If they study the Banco Central exchange rates HERE,
expats will find this pattern as predictable as the sun coming up every morning, so, of course, it is wise to take advantage of predictable future knowledge.

Last year the Banco Central also dropped the value of the U.S. dollar by 3.9 percent in the last week of November.  The colon was 517.00 on Nov. 21, 2007, and in seven days dropped to 496.75 on Nov. 29, 2007, a 3.9 percent decrease in eight days.  The colon hit its low at 494.50 on May 8 (end of high season) before it started its steady and predictable climb again until Nov. 20 when it hit it’s high at 551.75.  So last high season saw a 3.9 percent drop in one week and a total steady drop of only 4.35 percent before the value of the U.S. dollar started to increase again by 11.58 percent from its low of 494.50 on May 8 to its yearly high of 551.75 on Nov. 20.

My only regret is that I did not send this article to A.M. Costa Rica a couple of weeks ago when I was converting a bundle of U.S. dollars into colons to build my nest egg in colons and also pay my employees' Christmas bonuses.


 *Mr. Bridges is a local businessman.


Why does not Costa Rica take steps to protect flow of cash?
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re: new residency legislation

It seems to me that Costa Rica is very much a part of the global economy. That is to say, the country is affected by other world events and economic conditions.  One would think that the Costa Rican government would take action to protect the stability of the country with a long-term view. 

Though widely known that tourism is its No. 1 industry, I’m curious about how much of the rest of the economy here is fueled by ongoing expat dollars. 

Doesn’t it make sense to take action to keep those dollars flowing into the country rather than discourage foreigners to live here?  Even though the expats who are living solely on Social Security isn’t this amount often double the average income of Costa Ricans? 

If the government wanted to have fewer expats move here, what would be the best means to accomplish that? 

1.)  Raise the income requirements? 

2.)  Create uncertainty whether it would be raised again in the future? 
3.)  Create doubt about whether you can stay in the country and risk investment here? 

4.)  Make no position clear in the proposed legislation whether current residency status would be honored? 

5.)  Take action that all the blogs, Web sites, books and magazines having anything to do with relocating to foreign countries would flag in red for readers to become very uneasy? 

If you were seriously considering relocation to Costa Rica right now, wouldn’t you take pause and reconsider?  Why would you come here and face the risk of on-going increases in residency income requirements, consequential risk of investment, moving expenses, disruption of having to move again, and the general feeling that the government sees you as only a resource to squeeze, take advantage of, and offer no security for the permanency of your residency? 

If I were trying to construct legislation to completely discourage expats from moving here, I would build it just as this legislation has done.  If this is the desired effect, well done.
Tom Ackley
San Ramón de Alajuela


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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.



It cannot be Christmas
without 'The Nutcracker'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's not Christmas without “The Nutcracker,” which will be staged at the Teatro Nacional throughout December, featuring Costa Rica's St. Petersburg Classic Ballet Theater, as well as acclaimed Russian soloist Marina Medvetskaya.

She will be accompanied by 10 other acclaimed Russian dancers in other major roles, while more than 200 dancers from Costa Rican companies will also take supporting roles, said Elizabeth Barquero, executive producer of the event.

The Teatro Nacional has staged “The Nutcracker” for the past four years and hopes to create a more international performance this year by bringing in North American dance company The Willis Ballet to head choreography.

Choreography was designed by Peggy-Willis Aarnio, former head of the dance program at Texas Tech University and artistic director of The Willis Ballet. It is a variation of the original choreography that usually accompanies Tchaikovsky's classic.

“The Nutcracker” will be staged Dec. 12, 16, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m., and on Dec. 14 at 11 a.m.  Dec. 14 will see a double feature, at 11 a.m. and at 5 p.m.  Tickets cost 10,000 colones (about $18.70) for general seating and 5,000 colones (about $9.35) for gallery seating. Senior citizens and children under 12 receive a 20 percent discount off ticket prices. Tickets are avaliable at the Teatro Nacional box office from Mondays to Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For reservations, those interested can call 2221-5341.

Arias at Doha conference
challenges First World


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Óscar Arias Sánchez, one of about a dozen heads of state to attend an international conference on financing and development, called upon richer nations to face up to climate change and food shortages.

The purpose of the weekend meeting in Doha, the capital of Qatar, was to construct an agenda based on the Group of 20 meeting last month in Washington. But most major nations were not represented by their head of state. A major topic is the world financial crisis and its effect on developing nations.

"It is not fair that the nations on the way to development are confronted now with the consequences of a crisis that they did not cause. But it is is more unfair that we are without the aid of the nations responsible," said Arias, according to Casa Presidencial.

He is promoting his twin proposals at the United Nations- sponsored event: the forgiveness of international debt by richer countries for those developing nations that reject spending money on arms and an international weapons pact.

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