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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Dec. 15, 2008,  Vol. 8, No. 248       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Tourism officials will select '2 millionth' visitor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Optimistic tourism officials are getting ready to welcome the person they are calling the 2 millionth tourist to the country for 2008.

The number is an extrapolation of arrival data through October.  The Cámara Nacional de Turismo said that 1,209,105 persons entered the country via airports this year by the end of October. The chamber estimated that 1,550,135 persons entered the country by land, sea and air routes because historically 78 percent of the arrivals have been by air.

That number of arrivals is 125,000 more than in 2007. Extrapolating even further, the chamber computed that the 2 millionth tourist would arrive either Dec. 16 or 17.

The real numbers still are not available for November, but tourism officials are saying that in a month and a half nearly 450,000 more tourists arrived. Hence the 2 million figure.

The festivities Wednesday around the arrival of the purported 2 millionth tourist will make great press, but the event seems to run counter to the challenges facing the industry.

The national chamber just finished a survey of the industry. The chamber surveyed 86 tourism operations from Dec. 2 to 9. These included hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and car rental firms.

The goal was to measure the effect of the world financial crisis and estimate the occupation levels for the last third of the year and for the coming year.

Results were mixed. Some 73 percent of the firms said they had not fired any employees, but 26 percent admitted they had cut their staff by an average of six persons. One firm said it had fired 15 employees, said the survey summary.

Some 57 percent of the respondents said that business was lower this year than in 2007, but 20
tourist arrival
Instituto de Turismo graphic for Wednesday

percent said the amount of business was better, and 19 percent said that the level of business was the same. Of those reporting improvement in business, the average increase was 24.4 percent, said the chamber.

Half the firms reported fewer reservations for the month of December compared with the same month in 2007, said the chamber. The average decrease was 26.7 percent, said the chamber. Yet 12 percent of the responding firms reported an increase in reservations averaging 27 percent. Some 34 said reservations equaled those of 2007.

Some 42 percent of the firms predicted that they would have about 20 percent growth for 2009.
The survey results are more optimistic than feedback from Central Valley hotel, tour and rental car operators. They uniformly report fewer reservations, both for hotels and rental cars.

Arrival numbers always are delayed at the tourism institute. The figures come from the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería based on the visa slips visitors present when they enter the country.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of supposed visitors, mainly from other Central American countries, arrive as tourists, but some have the goal of seeking work, and most are not likely to be lodged in a hotel.

Police capture second suspect in telephone scam
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers have captured the second U.S. citizen indicted in Florida on a charge of running a $13 million telephone scam. He is Steven Douglas Schultz, 55.

Schultz is believed to be the partner of Jeffery
Allen Pearson, who was detained Tuesday. The U.S. government will seek to extradite both to face trial in U.S. District Court, Southern district of Florida.

The two men and others ran a series of business opportunity firms seeking to sell U.S. citizens display racks and products. Most of the victims, and there are at least 450, were older or
Face of arrestee
Steven Schultz
retired individuals seeking to enhance their monthly incomes.

Both Pearson and Schultz were charged with conspiracy and with committing their offenses via telemarketing, according to the Justice Department. Pearson also was charged with 12 counts of mail fraud and seven counts of wire fraud, and Schultz also was charged with eight counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud, the department said.

The telephone calls were made from La Sabana, Escazú and Santa Ana, according to U.S. officials, but voice-over-Internet protocol made recipients of the calls think the firm was located in the United States.
arrested man
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública/Humberto Ballestero
Steven Douglas Schultz is led to jail

Schultz was grabbed Friday in the Centro  Comercial Plaza Rohrmoser. He carried a false Costa Rican passport and a fake identification cédula, said a report from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The local representative of the International Police Agency, Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad, participated in the arrest as did the Fuerza Pública's Grupo de Apoyo Operacional or tactical squad.

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Lady Luck liked 66
and series No. 299

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This morning the numbers you want to see on your lottery ticket are 66 with series 299. There are five identical lottery tickets bearing that number and series. Each is worth 580 million colons or about $1.06 million.

Sunday was the drawing for the annual Christmas lottery, the "Gordo," run by the Junta de Protección Social.

A full lottery ticket with all 40 sections intact is needed to walk off with all the money. That ticket would have cost 32,000 colons. More likely the big prize is spread around in pieces because most Costa Ricans do not buy a full ticket due to the cost.

The drawing Sunday was at 7 p.m. in Parque Juan Santamaría in Alajuela. It only took about 10 minutes for the ball representing the top prize to appear.

There were many lesser prizes. For example, simply having a lottery ticket with the number 66 merits a payout. So do the tickets immediately above and below the grand prize. Plus there were other winning numbers for less money.

Men who killed two suspects
now fear for own lives

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A businessman who helped kill two armed robbers now is living in fear of his life. So is his employee.

The two were involved in a shootout Friday at a heavily traveled traffic circle. Killed were two presumed robbers who had just relieved the businessman of some 1 million colons, about $1,820.

The businessman, León Cortés Soler, the operator of a metal shop, and the employee Miguel Beita Villalobos, both said Sunday that relatives of the two dead men showed up at the scene and made threatening gestures.

Also involved was a messenger, Jeffery Montoya, who pulled out his own pistol during the shootout and fired on the robbery suspects.

All three men spent time in jail until a judge released them.

The 11 a.m. shooting happened at the Juan Pablo II traffic circle under the Autopista General Cañas in La Uruca not far east of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. Cortés had just taken out money from his account at the Banco Nacional's La Sabana branch and was headed to his shop to pay his employees.

The two robbers on a motorcycle took advantage of the traffic jam typical of the off ramp to confront the two men and demand the money. The businessman only gave them about half of what he carried, and they fled. But the two men also became ensnarled in traffic, giving Cortés the opportunity to get out of his vehicle, pull his own gun and head in the direction of the fleeing robbers.

Cortés told investigators that one of the fleeing men fired on him first. The dead men were identified as Gustavo Adolfo Flores Meléndez and Juan Gabriel Herrera Retana. Both were individuals known to police.

Despite wind, rain and crowd
festival has uneventful run

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival de la Luz stepped off in a rainstorm and chilly winds Saturday, but police and the Cruz Roja are calling their efforts successes.

One serious incident marred the evening. A man suffered a serious knife wound, according to the Cruz Roja.

The Cruz Roja reported that its workers helped 80 persons at the 10 aid stations. Only nine, including the knife victim, had to be taken to hospitals.

The Fuerza Pública said that 15 persons were detained, including two persons who had outstanding warrants. Some drugs were confiscated.

The crowd appeared to be less than the 1.5 million expected by the Municipalidad de San José due to the weather. But others came prepared.

The police appear to be assisted in their work by a rule that alcohol was prohibited along the parade route, a rule that was generally followed. In past years, disorderly conduct generally came from groups of young males who had overindulged in beer.

Pablo Bertozzi, head of the Fuerza Pública in the central San José area, said 700 officers, including trainees from the Escuela Nacional de Policía, were present. Some were undercover.

Stallone picks Costa Rica
for 'Expendable' scenes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Actor Sylvester Stallone selected the country as one of its locations in the upcoming movie “The Expendables,” according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The actor will not only perform, but will also direct this drama which will also star Jet Li, as well as Jason Statham, considered two of the biggest stars in this genre, the institute said. Another report said that Dolph Lundgren, who costarred in the  "Rocky IV" film as a Russian boxer, also will appear.

The news was released on the Internet, on the magazine Web site of The Hollywood Reporter where Stallone revealed his scene locations, which will also include Costa Rica and Louisiana. Forest Whitaker, an Oscar winner, is also expected to be among the cast members.

The film is about a group of mercenaries who seek to overthrow a South American dictator and will be rated PG-13.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 248

'Tis the drink for all seasons: Government-issued guaro!
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Eggnog may be the seasonal drink elsewhere, but in Costa Rica the universal lubricant is cane liquor or aguardiente. The government monopoly Fábrica Nacional de Licores, makes the product that is a favorite at many family gatherings, of alcoholics and of casual tipplers.

In Central America cane liquor is often referred to as guaro. Essentially rum never given a chance to age, cane liquor is produced by the distillation of sugar or molasses, resulting in a product that is 30 percent alcohol.

The Fábrica’s flagship brand is Cacique. The company’s marketers refer to it as a “drink with a neutral taste that can be consumed straight or with any natural or artificial mixer.” A Cacique Black Label is charcoal filtered.
Cacique is presented in an iconic one-liter bottle with a representation of a cacique or Indian chief on its label. It is also available in a 750 ml frosted glass bottle and a 365 ml plastic container.

The retail price for a liter is about $5.75 while the small bottle will set a drinker back around $2.65.

The Fábrica produces some aged rums with the brand names Ron Viejo, Ron Marques, and Ron Marques Special Reserve. Other items in the product line include “rums” made of guaro with brown sugar called Ron Colorado and Ron Magallanes. Super Cañita is rum-flavored aguardiente.

The registration of a brand name Paz for guaro was recently nixed by higher-level government officials who thought “peace” was not best associated with a product so destructive to society.

A government monopoly on distillation was declared in 1850, and much of the facilities were located near downtown San José until the main operation was moved to the present location near Grecia in 1981. The distillation plant is on the north side of the Pan-American highway. This is in a cane-growing area, though not one of the largest.

Regulators have upheld the monopoly against importers who would bring concentrated alcohol and then dilute it for human consumption. This was declared a form of “manufacturing” the final product, which is legally reserved for the Fábrica Nacional.

The liquor factory has a somewhat murky relationship with the National Production Council, a bureaucratic entity much-criticized for its recent lack of results in helping the country’s farmers. The Fábrica Nacional turns its income/profits (a company press release states it both ways) over to the council which returns 50 percent of the budget to run the factory and its distribution network. The company, and the Movimiento Libertario legislators  who would privatize it, do not seem to agree in public
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
The only difference is the size.

 statements whether that’s 50 percent of the Production Council’s budget or the Fábrica Nacional's.

Even in 1850 one of the justifications for a monopoly was to avoid poorly made spirits poisoning the drinking public. Without good quality controls the ethanol, which gives the pleasant sensation associated with alcohol consumption, is easily contaminated with methanol, which is more closely linked to nerve damage, blindness, and death.  Moonshine operations continue in Costa Rica. The homemade product is called chirrite.

In its description of the dismantlement of one in Alajuela in 2007, news reports said there were large numbers of cockroaches around the stills and some amount of cockroach fragments in the resulting product for clandestine sale. These sorts of operations often do result in inferior quality aguardiente. One 2006 episode in Nicaragua resulted in 44 deaths.

Fábrica Nacional-produced alcohol is also sold widely as denatured rubbing alcohol, with the addition of some distasteful or poisonous substance. Some hardcore alcoholics seem to find it palatable.

Costa Rica does have an Instituto sobre Alcolismo y Farmacodependencia  which claims 620,000 people in the country drink to excess (15 percent of the population), and that there are 250,000 clinical alcoholics.

“We’re a government enterprise which has learned how to adapt to the new age and to globalization, facing the needs of the new century, and I’m sure we can keep producing high-quality products.” says Fábrica Nacional's administrator Claudio Alfaro on the firm’s Web site.

Cartago lawmaker sides with expats on immigration proposal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lawmaker from Cartago reports he is working with other members of the Asamblea Legislativa to correct the current draft of the immigration law. He is Carlos Gutiérrez Gómez of the Movimiento Libertario who says that being rich or famous is no guarantee that a foreigner would behave honorably here.

Gutiérrez wrote an essay in Spanish that appears on his Web site and has been distributed to newspapers.

Many of his arguments are the same that have been raised by expats when news arrived of major increases in the financial commitment for those seeking rentista or pensionado status. For example he notes that Panamá actively tried to attract foreigners to live there.

In contradiction, he said Costa Rica is pushing a project that will limit the possibilities of around 70 percent of the pensionados and rentistas of the middle class who have worked honorably during more than 30 years to obtain their retirement.
The proposed law would require pensionados to prove they had a guaranteed income of $2,000 a month, an increase from the current $600.

Rentistas would have to show a stable income from investments or rents of at least $5,000 a year, instead of the current $1,000.

Another section of the law says that those who currently have pensionado or rentista status here will have to meet the new financial guidelines the next time they have to renew their status.

Gutiérrez also points out that lots of Costa Ricans owe their jobs to expats living here.

"Although this project has the noble purpose of filtering the entry of undesirable subjects and thus give security to our population, I consider that it is not the increase in the amount of income that will solve the problem," said Gutiérrez. "Rather it should try to stimulate those who show an honorable conduct and service that positively supports the development and economy of the country."

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 248

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Two appointments to telecom board wrapped in confusion
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
from The CAFTA Report

In a controversial procedure that may imperil approval of the U.S. free trade treaty, the legislature Friday rejected two of four persons proposed for the board of the new  Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones.

The vote took place at an Asamblea Legislativa session that may not have been legal, and multiple Sala IV constitutional court appeals are expected.

Rejected were a woman who once served in the assembly and a man who has served as a legal adviser for the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, the entity that made the nominations.

The appointments would have become final if the legislature did not act. The legislature has 30 days under the law to reject applicants, and the regulating authority gave formal notice of the nominations Nov. 13.

The four candidates came from a pool of 80 that was studied by an outside advisory company.

Members of the Partido Acción Ciudadana had said they were unhappy with the choice of Vanessa de Paul Castro Mora, 44, a lawyer who served in the legislature from 1998 to 2000 as a representative of another political party, Unidad Social Cristiana.  Acción Ciudadana also said it was not happy with the selection of Juan Manuel Quesada Espinoza, a 30-year-old lawyer for the agency, as the panel's substitute member.

The assembly president, Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández, said Wednesday that he wanted to hold a special session Friday to consider the nominations. The assembly usually does not meet on Fridays. Thursday the five legislators of Unidad Social Cristiana did not attend the session, and others also were absent. So a quorum was not possible, and there was no vote to meet Friday.

Pacheco convened the Friday session nevertheless, and Ms. Castro only got nine votes. She needed at least 21 based on the number of lawmakers present.
Ms. Castro is likely to see a judicial ruling that the Friday session was not legal. Meanwhile, the regulating agency said that it would present two more candidates to the legislature.

Approved for the posts was Carlos Raúl Gutiérrez Gutiérrez, 50, a Harvard University public administration master's degree graduate and a man with 10 years experience in international projects, according to the regulating authority. Also approved was George Petire Miley Rojas, 33, an engineer with a graduate degree in business administration who has seven years in telecommunications at the international level, the authority said. Miley works for the telecommunications firm Orange Business Services.

At the very least, the rejections were a move by lawmakers to assert their authority over the selection process. Some lawmakers also said that the nomination of Ms. Castro was
part of some political payback by the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

Whatever the reasons, the failure to name a full panel for the board of the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones may mean that Costa Rica has not done all that was required to bring the free trade treaty into force. The country's actions are subject to review by the other treaty members, including the U.S. trade representative. Casa Presidencial said this is the case. Others in the legislature disagree and said that the three-place Superintendencia board can meet with just two members.

Costa Rica is working under a deadline of Dec. 31 to pass all the local laws that implement the treaty. Creating the  Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones and naming the board was one of those requirements.

The deadline has been extended twice.

The Superintendencia will have full control over the telecommunications field andits quality and coverage. The telecommunications law has opened that sector to private competition. The existing former government monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, is not supposed to receive any preferences.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 248

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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.


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.


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.


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Raúl Castro pays a call
on oil source Hugo Chávez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban President Raúl Castro is visiting Venezuela on his first international trip as leader of the Communist nation.

Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chávez, welcomed Castro Saturday at the Caracas airport.

This is President Castro's first official foreign trip since February, when the 77-year-old took charge from his ailing older brother, Fidel Castro.

The two leaders were to visit the tomb of South American independence icon Simón Bolívar Sunday and later hold talks on a variety of issues.

Venezuela and Cuba have increased cooperation on energy and oil production. Venezuela is a critical trade partner for the Caribbean island nation, which imports nearly 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela.

Today's visit comes ahead of a summit in Brazil next week, where Latin American and Caribbean leaders will gather for talks.

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