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(506) 223-1327         Published Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 246               E-mail us
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Some Puerto Viejo expats feel threatened by marina
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The expat community of a small Caribbean surf town has vowed to take action to halt the construction of a five-star marina on its doorstep.

Bicycles are the main form of transport along the potholed streets of Puerto Viejo, a town made up of wooden houses and local businesses that is favored by backpackers for its unspoiled beaches, laid-back atmosphere, and the famous Salsa Brava surf break.

Fears are high that this will change if the proposed “Marina Ecologica New World” development is approved, and locals decided at a meeting Saturday that they will form a committee to solicit the Municipalidad de Talamanca not to give the project approval.

Developers would have to pour around 100,000 truckloads of rock onto coral reefs to realize their plans for Playa Negra, a black sand beach that stretches north from the edge of the town, and local business would likely suffer from the new competition.

“The marina is going to be its own community,” said Jose Bizet Delgado, the meeting's organizer. “It will include a commercial area with supermarkets, five-star hotels, restaurants and casinos.

“The people who come here on their yachts will not come into the town to use the services of local businesses.”

Around 60 concerned residents, went to the town's Casa de Cultura Saturday to hear about the possible impact the $40 million project could have on their community.

The marina will be able to dock 250 boats, and will cover an area of 123,000 square meters in the water and 62,000 square meters on land according to documents obtained from developers, Grupo Caribeño Nacional S.A., and presented at the meeting along with two speeches.

Puerto Viejo lies between two protected areas, Parque Nacional Cahuita to the north and Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo to the south. Both contain important living reefs.

Engineer Jose Alvarado highlighted in his speech that toxic products such as paint and oil used in the maintenance of the boats, along with an increase in sewage and pollution, could damage marine life in these two areas.

Oceanographer Guillermo Quiros then questioned a report produced for the developers by Watermark S.A., and said that the firm's study of the currents does not correspond with reality.  He raised concerns that the breakwaters detailed by the plans, some of which will be 6 meters in height, could destroy the Salsa Brava, Costa Rica's biggest and most powerful surf wave.

Although the original plans for the marina claimed to be able to provide 2,000 extra jobs for the area, effects on existing businesses are expected to be negative, according to those at the meeting.

Currently, the emphasis is on quality local and home-made products, with many residents making a living from organic restaurants, hand-made chocolates, bakeries and other small enterprises.

“Rich people aren't going to eat in little stores,” said language teacher Dana Gibson, a Californian who has been living in Puerto Viejo for four years.

“Everyone here will get bought out, and it will become Miami. We're right on the edge – either we'll be taken like everywhere else, or we'll do it right.”

Shaun Sellers, the American-Canadian owner of Echo Books, added: “I have these awful images of Puerto Viejo turning into Quepos or Manuel Antonio. The problem is that some people think those places are fine. It's an ideological fight between those people and people who want something different.”

Businesses along the beachfront will be deprived of their view of Playa Negra and the ocean which attracts many of their clients. Visitors will see instead parking lots and marina breakwaters.
Puerto viejo ice cream
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
The town runs on bikes, and Dana Gibson serves up ice cream at the local heladería.

poster of Puerto Viejo
A.M. Costa Rica/Anne Clark
Residents' fear are reflected in this poster of what they think the town may soon look like.

Elenda Halgarson Brown, a Puerto Viejo native who runs several businesses including a mission and an ice cream shop that face Playa Negra, said: “We feel like we're being invaded. Tourists come here for the nature, and we must protect that for the coming generations.”

Not everyone in the expat community is against the project. Tina Stavest, owner of Jammin Juice and Jerk Joint, a restaurant situated near the development site, said: “I come from the coast of Canada, and we have hundreds of marinas there. They can fit in wonderfully if they are done right.

“There's no reef here — the run-off from the banana plantations killed it long ago. Puerto Viejo was a harbor a long time ago when it was settled, and now it will be one again,”  she said.

The majority of the native Afro-Caribbean residents do not oppose the project, seeing it as an opportunity to bring in money from richer tourists rather than from backpackers who are famed for their tight funds.

“The marina is a necessity for Talamanca,” said Walter Coto Molina, the developers' lawyer and a former government minister, said. “Talamanca is the poorest zone of Costa Rica and this project is essential for its development.

“People up in Escazú live like they're in the First World, but people in Talamanca live like they are in Uganda. 90 percent of the community in Puerto Viejo want this to happen. This is a community project with Costa Rican investors and it will be an ecological project that takes care of its environment.”

He also said that the plans are constantly changing, and the marina may be able to harbor as few as 50 to 75 boats. He spoke by telephone Tuesday.

The marina plans have not yet been approved, as the developers have not completed an environmental impact study, but the Municipalidad de Talamanca has declared its “marked interest in the execution of the marina plans” as a benefit to the economic and touristic development of the area, he said.

The opposition will now try to prove that the reef nearest to Playa Negra is still alive, and to continue pushing for Puerto Viejo to be declared a city, as this will give it an increased ability to influence the proceedings.

One resident said: “The chances are high that we'll stop it. If it gets to the stage of construction we'll have a sit in, but I don't think it will get that far.”


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 246

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Democrats overseas have way
to help choose candidate


Special to A.M. Costa Rica
 
In February millions of U.S. citizens from Toronto to Timbuktu will have the chance to vote in the first-ever online global primary to choose the Democratic nominee for president.

"In the past, overseas voting could be a complicated affair," said Paul Kloes, chairman of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica. "In 2008, we intend to change all that and make sure that Democrats in Costa Rica have a clear say in who our candidate will be. "

Just as the U.S. primary season gets into full swing, Democrats living overseas will be able to vote by Internet, fax and letter. Traditional drop-in voting centers will also be open in 34 countries.

"Overseas voting has skyrocketed in recent years," said Christine Marques, the Democrats Abroad international chairwoman in Geneva. "With the Internet, we can reach voters at their convenience in every corner of the world, not just in the big cities."

The worldwide election results will determine the allocation of Democrats Abroad’s 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. These delegates will be elected at a combination of local, regional and global caucuses held during early 2008. The caucuses also provide an opportunity for Americans abroad to shape the party’s election platform.

American citizens living overseas who want to vote in the Democratic global primary must either be members of Democrats Abroad or they may register and request a ballot from Democrats Abroad at VoteFromAbroad.org.

To vote in the U.S. presidential election in November, overseas voters must request a ballot from local voting authorities in the place where they last resided in the U.S., also possible at VoteFromAbroad.org, said Kloes.

The Democrats Abroad Global Primary will take place from Feb. 5 to 12. Democrats Abroad Regional Caucuses will take place in Brussels March 15 for Europe-Middle East-Africa and in Vancouver April 11 for the Americas and Asia-Pacific.

The Democrats Abroad Global Convention will take place in Vancouver April 12 and 13. The Democratic National Convention will take place in Denver, Colorado, Aug. 25 to 28.

The U.S. presidential election will take place Nov. 4. Deadlines for requesting overseas absentee ballots vary per state.

Those touched by Christmas
have two ways to give help


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

End-of-year guilt can pile up as the holiday season hits its frenetic peak.  Shoppers get caught up in buying the perfect Christmas gifts and everyone stresses about making achievable New Year's resolutions.  However, there are ways to get involved locally that do not involve Multiplaza or midnight champagne toasts. 

Ruth Eisenberg, who lives near Cahuita on the Caribbean coast, is spending her time assisting a neighboring family.  Ms. Eisenberg's neighbors live near Pandora, south of Puerto Limón, and are moving to be closer to a school. 

The family is disassembling their wooden home and reassembling it in Guápiles, some 100 kms. (about 60 miles) away.  Ms. Eisenberg has organized a small group of volunteers to rebuild the house and dig a well.  She has received cement blocks and a complete bathroom as donations.  Ms. Eisenberg said she believes any assistance would be an upgrade for the family and she is looking for additional volunteers as well as other donations.  She is at 756-8101.

Another, more formal, way of giving back to the community is with Asociación Talamanqueña de Ecoturismo y Conservación's gift drive in Talamanca.  Last year's impromptu drive was so successful that the organization is expanding into additional communities this year. 

The organization said it is looking for good-condition items, including clothing, sports equipment, school supplies, first aid kits, non-perishable food and carpentry tools.  A complete report will be issued after the drive along with receipts for cash donations, the organization said.  Representatives can be reached at  750-0191 or 750-0398.

U.S. Coast Guard gets an OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa voted unanimously Tuesday to permit the U.S. Coast Guard to bring its vessels into Costa Rican ports through May. Such approval is required by the Costa Rican Constitution.

Absent and not voting was José Merino del Río of Frente Amplio, who consistently opposes such permissions. The ships are in the Caribbean and Pacific seeking out drug smugglers.


Our readers' opinions
He's leaving over taxes

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The lower real estate prices and property taxes were the second main draw for me buying real estate in Costa Rica. The friendly Ticos being my first.  But now with the real estate taxes increasing equal to what I pay here in California, I guess Panamá will get my money.  I'm sad because I still love Costa Rica, but it is no longer enticing due to the real estate tax increase.  A sad goodbye.
John Garretson
Bakersfield, California

'Keep it up, Jo,' she says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is interesting that every time Jo Stuart write a good, comprehensive article about American foreign policies it brings out the neo/con expats in full force.  Everyone should read Naomi Klein's book "shock doctrine"  so we can really understand how we have been lied to for so many years by the likes of Bush and his crowd.

Hopefully, the United States can rid ourselves of these people before more mischief will be done.  Good work, Jo, and keep it up.  We need more writers like you. 

Marian Rawson
Los Angeles, California

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 246


Bandits welcome former resident by shooting him in leg
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits on a motorcycle shot and then robbed a French man who had arrived at the San José airport just a few hours earlier Monday. The bandits attacked the man while he walked with his 12-year-old son in barrio Aranjuez.

The man, Claude Gallissian, 52, said he arrived at about 6 a.m. at Juan Santamaría airport. He checked into the Hotel Aranjuez around 11 a.m. and immediately went to exchange his money at the Bank of Costa Rica near Santa Teresita church, he said.

He said he had left the bank and was about 15 meters away from the hotel when two men on a motorcycle grabbed at his sweater from behind.

“They did not say anything,” said Gallisian, “they didn't say 'Put your hands up' or 'Give me your bag,' they just shot.”

The men shot Gallisian 5 times in the right leg. Gallissian said he yelled “No more!” in French. As he lie bleeding on the ground, the men unfastened his fanny-pack and sped away.  His son was left crying by his fallen father as the hotel reception called an ambulance and the police.

The robbers had most likely seen Gallissian leave the bank, and followed him, said Gallissian. He was carrying about $3,000 in cash which was partially in dollars and partially in colons. He also carried his credit card and passport. Everything was inside of his fanny pack.

The two men who robbed and shot him looked to be about 18 or 20 years of age, said Gallissian. Police have not made any arrests.

Gallissian, who lived in Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula for about 5 years, was returning after nine years, for a month long vacation. He lives in Tahiti with his son, Morgan.

Gallissian was discharged from nearby Hospital Calderón Guardia midday Tuesday. He was in good spirits Tuesday night. Not only did the hospital not charge him, he was able to obtain a provisionary passport at the French Embassy, and a Costa Rican woman who had heard his story was able to contact his bank in Tahiti to put a hold on his stolen credit card.

The woman, Isabela Arias Alvarado, has relatives who live near the site of the shooting, including, her daughter, owner of Kap's Place hotel. Ms. Arias heard the story and decided to go to the hospital and see if this stranger needed her help. In fact, Gallissian did need help: his son, had already walked all the way back to the hotel alone to
shooting victim, son and helper
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Isabela Arias Alvarado stands with wounded Claude Gallissian and his son, Morgan.

try and find his father's papers and credit card number, but could not find them, he said. Ms. Arias was able to talk with hotel reception and contact Gallissian's bank in Tahiti. Then she and her daughter, who speaks French, looked after the younger Gallissian for the night at their hotel.

Gallissian said he plans to continue his month-long trip although he will spend the majority of it outside of San José. A friend lent him money and his son is doing better now.

“I was crying when I thought about what could have happened to my son,” said Gallissian. He said in comparison to many he saw in the hospital, his problem was small. Of the robbers he said, “I don't have bad feelings towards anyone. They were very poor people and what they did was very bad.” Gallissian repeated numerous times Tuesday night how greatful he was to the hospital workers and hotel staff who had helped him.


Costa Rican raids net seven international smuggling suspects
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained seven persons suspected as being members of an illegal immigrant smuggling ring after raids Tuesday, said the head of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The ring organizes the illegal passage of South Americans to the United States, and Costa Rica is a major part of the operation, said the director, Jorge Rojas.

About 30 people per week were smuggled through safe houses in Costa Rica, according to officials. Three hotels in San José and five houses around the country were raided during the investigation, said Rojas. The Poder Judicial said later that a total of nine raids took place.

Each person taking part in the passage north paid a different sum in each country, totaling about $7,000, until they reached the United States, according to Rojas. The amount for the stop in Costa Rica was $1,700, said officials. Passengers started in either Bolivia, Ecuador, or Perú, made their way to Costa Rica by either plane or boat, and were then transported secretly in vehicles to the United States, according to investigators.

Officials began investigating this particular organization more than a year ago, said the Poder Judicial. Nineteen members of Judicial Investigating Organization as well as other officials and prosecutors were working on the case, according to Rojas.

Bolivians entered the country by air and arrived at Juan Santamaría airport, according to the scenario laid out by investigators. Those traveling from Perú or Ecuador arrived in Panamá by boat and crossed into Costa Rica through Paso Canoas. The passengers were then smuggled to hotels or safe houses and later transported through Central America, said Rojas.

Although the investigation is concluding, Rojas said it is possible some members of the ring left the country and
could return later. Four of those arrested were women. The San José man who was arrested had the last names of Chavez Sánchez. Of the houses indicated in the ring, two were located in Tibás and one in San Francisco de Dos Rios. There were also houses in Liberia and Paso Canoas. 

Smuggling humans only recently has become a crime here. A revised immigration law that went into effect in August 2006 criminalizes those who would help others enter or leave the country illegally.

Before that law took effect, officials directed their attention to baby smuggling rings and the smuggling of individuals for illegal purposes, such as prostitution.

Several times a year boats loaded with persons seeking to immigrate illegally to the United States are found suffering mechanical trouble in the Pacific.

The passengers there usually are Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Bolivians and Chinese.

Officials usually arrange their transfer back to their country of origin in conjunction with their own embassy.

Many Costa Ricans are working illegally in the United States and Canada. In mid-2006 Mexican police stopped a group of Costa Ricans who claimed to be karate experts. In fact, the 20 persons were trying to reach the United States illegally.

Two groups of young Costa Rican men claimed to be members of soccer teams and managed to obtain U.S. visas from U.S. Embassy workers. Once they reached Texas, one group played a lackluster game of soccer in a friendship tournament and the other team just vanished.

Embassy workers had trouble keeping track of whether the individuals returned to Costa Rica because local immigration records are not up to date.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 246

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Tons of pills cause suspicions and confiscation of Honduras-bound shipment
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The anti-drug police confiscated 2.5 tons of pills that could be used to make methamphetamine, they said Tuesday.

The pills came into the country at Juan Santamaría airport after an extended journey through Spain and Holland from their point of manufacture in India, said officials.

The shipment, nearly 4 million pills of chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, and pseudoephedrine, a decongestant, was bound for Honduras, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.
Although the chemicals are found in over-the-counter cold medications, including Sudafed, they can be used to make illegal products, said police officials.

The drug agents became suspicious because the pills were packed in lots of 1,000 instead of the normal quantity of 100 and because the shipping labels were incorrect. The shipment also lacked a health permit, they said. The agents suspected that after arriving in Honduras by truck the chemicals would be shipped to México and then the United States. Mauricio Boraschi, director of the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas, said that an investigation would be opened.


Fujimore gets a six-year sentence over claim that he ordered an illegal search
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori got six years in prison Tuesday for ordering an illegal search, in a trial separate from one he faces for human rights charges.

The court sentenced Fujimori on the charge that he ordered a search, without a warrant, of an apartment belonging to the wife of a former security chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. Fujimori acknowledges ordering the search, but says it was to investigate allegations that Montesinos was laundering money.

Monday, Fujimori appeared before three Supreme Court judges to face charges that he authorized government death
 squads to kill leftist rebels during his presidency. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

The former president angrily defended himself in a fiery outburst that prompted one of the judges to call him to order. That trial is scheduled to resume today.

Fujimori left Peru in 2000 after 10 years in office. He spent five years in exile in Japan, his ancestral homeland, before flying to Chile to stage a political comeback. He was arrested soon after his arrival in Chile.

The Chilean Supreme Court eventually ruled that Fujimori be extradited to Perú to face the charges against him. He returned Sept. 22.


There's a new tropical storm called Olga that might have an impact here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new subtropical storm is eroding hopes of a continuation of the dry weather the country has been experiencing.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the storm, called Olga, would cause a reduction in the winds by Thursday. That means less rain on the Caribbean and in the northern zone but today there still is a high probability of clouds with rain in the morning.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that the storm is over the Hispaniola bringing heavy rains to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Tropical storms, although far away, exert an influence on Costa Rican weather. The center said that storm force winds extend 240 miles (390 kms.) from Olga's center. The storm is heading west at about 16 mph, the center said. The good news is the report that the storm seems to be becoming disorganized.


Gulf of Nicoya ferry is back in service after mishap with truck on ramp
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A ferry that takes tourists and other travelers from Puntarenas to Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula had to halt its service for heavy vehicles after a truck fell through the access ramp Monday.

The truck, owned by Urbanizadora Navarro, was departing the ferry, Tambor I, when the accident happened, leaving the truck's wheels off the ramp, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.
The Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera worked through the night to fix the slight damage to the ramp, and the ministry confirmed that it was once more safe for heavy vehicles to use the ferry from 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The chief of operations of the association denied that there was anything wrong with the boat itself, saying: “The accident happened due to negligence on the part of the personnel on board the ferry, Tambor I.” The association runs a ferry that competes with both Tambor I and Tambor II.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 246



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