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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 249
Jo Stuart
About us
Just be glad you didn't win all that money
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you don’t think you are lucky, just consider: You did not win the El Gordo lottery Sunday night.

A lot of people did, and one man in San Pedro de Montes de Oca had half a full ticket for about 202 million colons. He didn’t let photographers for the Spanish-language newspapers take his photo because he knows he is now the target of every creep, lowlife and crook in the country.

As the big moneymen say, it’s not getting the cash, it’s keeping it.

Life and literature are full of accounts of how luck is a double-edged sword. Perhaps the most painful is "The Lottery Ticket" by the Russian Anton Chekov. A 19th Century couple believe they may have won a big lottery prize. They dream of what they will do with the money, and the dreams tear them apart. 

Ivan wants a younger, prettier wife.

The wife suspects the husband will steal her share of the money. Their lives are shattered even after they find they have not won.

"I shall go and hang myself on the first aspen tree!" says Ivan at the end of the story.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Off to the trash can

Losing is expected with lotteries. But suppose you thought you won and then could not collect? Novelties Wholesale  sells fake lottery tickets via the Internet. It’s Web page says of the fake tickets: "One of our best sellers. Fake lottery tickets are the greatest gags on earth. Each ticket appears to win $20,000 or more. Hysterically funny to watch as someone scratches and thinks they just hit the big time."

So there you have it. Our rationale for not winning the big Gordo prize. And we didn’t win the darn cars from the Cruz Roja either!

on hold

Alberto Trejos, seated second 
from left, is across the table from U.S. Trade Rep Robert Zoellick. And that is about as close as they got.

Our story is 


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Seatbelt law likely
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional Tuesday cleared the way for consideration today of a law that would make the use of seatbelts mandatory in motor vehicles.

Not using a seatbelt will result in a fine of 20,000 colons, officials said. That’s $48 at the current exchange.

The measure is included in a revision of the transit law. Police have been stopping and counseling motorists who do not use belts for the last two months, but they have been unable to write a ticket because the law did not exist.

Another coke bust
in the southwest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Southwest Costa Rica is the scene of frequent arrests for cocaine trafficking. Another one took place late Monday night when agents stopped two vehicles near Santa Rita de San Vito de Coto Brus. Five persons were detained.

Investigators said that one car containing three men traveled in advance of a second car that was carrying drugs. More than 34 kilos (some 75 pounds) of cocaine was confiscated. Packages were found under the back seat.

Agents said that the cocaine was probably for consumption here in Costa Rica because it was inadequately packed for international transportation.

Top rebel leader
arrested in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Secret police have arrested a suspected leftist rebel leader wanted for the murder of a kidnapped Japanese executive and the deadly bombing of a Bogota nightclub. 

Officials say DAS secret police arrested Wilmer Antonio Marin Cano, also known as "Hugo," Monday in the capital. 

Investigators say Marin Cano was in charge of the 22nd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which killed Japanese businessman Chikao Muramatsu last month. 

The 55-year-old businessman was found shot to death last month in mountains west of Bogota, nearly three years after he was abducted by common criminals and turned over to the FARC. Authorities believe the murder was masterminded by Marin Cano. 

Authorities also sought Marin Cano in connection with February's bombing of Bogota's "El Nogal" nightclub, which left at least 33 people dead and dozens wounded. 

Marin Cano's arrest took place as the country's smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), indicated it would soon release five foreign tourists it has been holding since September. 

But, the ELN rebels said they wanted the army to first pull back from the northern jungle region where the four Israelis and one Briton are being held. 

The ELN said that as proof of its flexibility and maturity, it wants to free the hostages in the coming days and that it hopes to avoid a tragedy. Last week, the ELN said it was suspending plans to free the captives, citing ongoing military operations in the area. 

The captives were among eight foreigners kidnapped in September. One hostage, a Briton, escaped. A Spaniard and a German were later released. 

Meanwhile, Colombian authorities say three bombs have exploded almost simultaneously in the coastal city of Barranquilla, killing one person and injuring at least 20 others.

Investigators say two of the devices exploded Tuesday in two supermarket stores in Barranquilla. They also say the third blast happened at a local shopping center. 

No one has claimed responsibility, but authorities say the incidents could have been part of a guerrilla extortion campaign.

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war that involves leftist rebels, rightist paramilitaries and the government. The conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year.

Brazil gets time
to stabilize economy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a 15-month extension of Brazil's credit agreement and increased the funds by $6.6 billion. 

The IMF also released more than $8 billion from the loan program, which was originally approved in September of last year. 

The lender, based here, said in a statement Monday the response of Brazil's new government to financial pressures has been both "ambitious and courageous." The lender said Brazil's monetary and fiscal policies have remained disciplined and that inflation has declined steadily. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office in January, pledging to honor the country's financial commitments, keep inflation low and maintain fiscal stability. He has also said his government will work with the IMF to stabilize Brazil's finances.

Mexican trucks in U.S.
become federal case

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to intervene in a two-decade-old dispute over allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roadways. 

The high court said Monday it would hear a Bush administration appeal of a ruling that says an environmental study must be conducted before the trucks can be allowed on U.S. highways. The study is expected to take at least one year. 

Since 1982, Mexican trucks have been allowed only in 32-kilometer commercial border zones, where goods must be transferred to U.S. trucks for deliveries within the United States. 

Environmental and labor organizations say U.S. transportation officials underestimated the impact that older, diesel trucks operated by some Mexican firms would have on air quality in border states struggling to reduce air pollution. 

U.S. officials say it is cumbersome and expensive to offload Mexican cargo to American trucks. Mexico's trucks make about 4.5 million border crossings each year.

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Powerful domestic forces opposed concept
Free trade: Delay is the Tico way of saying 'No!'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation’s decision to delay at least until January any action on a free trade treaty with the United States is very Costa Rican. Instead of a confrontational rejection, negotiators chose the  culturally acceptable technique of delay.

Not so for the United States, which is expected to go forward with a free trade treaty with the remaining four Central American nations, the Dominican Republic and, soon, with Panamá.

An analysis of the news

The U.S. reaction was upbeat. Richard Mills, a spokesman for the U.S. trade representative, said "We want to open markets for all our peoples, and we want to promote economic freedom, and lowering of barriers, and the lowering of tariffs, amongst the six countries because we're all neighbors, and we're all friends."

The real sticking point for Costa Rica was trying to fit a social welfare state into an agreement that stresses development, productivity and personal responsibility. The Abel Pacheco government chose to dump a free trade treaty instead of taking on powerful local political forces.

Without the assistance of other Central American countries, Costa Rica appears to have lost any leverage in trade negotiations.

Some national deputies were relieved. They no longer have to make a decision on the pact.

The government’s reluctance to continue with negotiations became known Tuesday morning.

Costa Rican negotiators in Washington, D.C., said that inflexibility by the United States in matters relating to textiles and certain aspects of agriculture caused Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior to decided not to sign the agreement. Tuesday was supposed to be the day when all five Central American states gave initial approval to a final draft.

Our government thinks that we still have not arrived as a balanced accord," said Gilberto Narrantes Rodríguez, minister of Economia, Industria y Comercio. He said that the United States presented at the last minute demands for opening the insurance sector, which is a government monopoly in Costa Rica.

Mills said that Costa Rican trade negotiators said they need to consult with officials in San José. He added that Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative, and Trejos will speak next week.

The failure to reach an agreement is a major defeat for the Pacheco government. The president strongly supported the idea of a free trade treaty and said it was a cornerstone of his plan for national development.

Deputies Elvia Navarro, Juan José Vargas and Rodrigo Alberto Carazo, among others at the Asamblea Nacional, said they were satisfied that negotiations have been put on hold.

"I support the position of President Abel Pacheco in saying that our country has no rush to negotiate insurance and telecommunication," said Vargas of the Bloque Patriótico. 

Carazo of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said that it is important that the executive branch be given the space to continue negotiations.

Deputies Monday demanded to see the final draft of the free trade agreement before the executive branch approved it in Washington.

Although politicians are talking about a delay in making the agreement, the stumbling blocks are so great that there may never be an accord. The United States wants some kind of access for its private companies in the field of telecommunications. That area is jealously guarded by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly  known as ICE and the single strongest political force in the country.

Agricultural producers always were leery of the pact because they are incapable of competing with U.S. agribusiness. A pro-free trade television spot shows a Cartago potato farmer harvesting his crop by digging in the soil with his hands, a far cry from the mechanized approach of U.S. potato producers.

The insurance sector, dominated by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros has been less vocal than the ICE workers but has worked hard behind the scenes.

A number of anti-free trade marches have taken place over the months. A  vocal element of Costa Rican politics opposes the free trade agreement because of fears the treaty is just a ploy for U.S. imperialism. 

The immediate results of Costa Rica’s rejection of the treaty  will not be obvious. The treaty itself is supposed to phase in over 10 to 15 years.

Initially, Costa Rica might be better off not having to compete with Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as free trade partners. Labor costs are much lower in those countries.

Certainly, without a treaty Costa Rican textile operations will be at a big disadvantage. So will producers of certain agricultural products when existing incentives for Caribbean countries end.

Tourist operators will be unaffected in the short run. However, increases in taxes to continue to support the government monopolies are inevitable.

Costa Rica may see its ability to borrow on the international market  reduced. The country has financed its social welfare system with debt, and about half the national budget is interest payments.

Costa Rica still is a candidate for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a less specific trading partnership of all the nations in the hemisphere except Cuba. that is supposed to come into being in 2005.

Wacky weather dangerous, too, U.N. agency says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization reports that 2003 was the third warmest year on record, just behind 2002 and 1998, which remains the warmest year. In its year-end report on the status of the global climate, the organization describes 2003 as a year of turbulence, marked by many extreme weather events. 

The World Meteorological Organization describes an above-normal number of hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones this past year. For example, in Sri Lanka, it notes, heavy rainfalls in May from a tropical cyclone resulted in flooding and landslides, killing at least 250 people and causing the worst floods in 50 years. 

The weather organization finds drought affected the livelihood of about 23 million people in eastern and southern Africa. It says extreme drought in the United States led to the most costly wildfires on record in southern California in late October. The report says heat waves in much of Europe last summer caused over 20,000 deaths and led to the loss of glaciers in the European Alps.

Deputy Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud says global warming is likely to lead to more frequent and extreme weather events. However, he says climate change alone cannot explain why any one extreme event occurs.

"Although climate change is likely to increase the frequency of extreme events, you cannot attribute any single one to any particular cause because any event is the combination of many, many causes," he said. "One of them is natural variability. Another one may be indeed climate change. 

Another one may be other factors. So, it is a very complex interaction between all the elements of this incredibly complex machine which is the earth." 

Jarraud says nothing can be done about the extreme weather, but governments can take actions that can reduce the consequences from natural disasters.

He says every country in the world has a meteorological service which can give early warnings about an impending disaster. In the case of a tornado in the United States, he says the warning time is only 15 minutes. But, even this, he says can allow people to go into shelters.

At the other extreme, Jarraud says drought is a phenomenon which builds over weeks, months and even years. In this case, he says countries have a lot of time to prepare ahead.

"It can be action in terms of farming, to make reserves in food, that government can take precautions," he said. "If we know that the season is going to be less rainy than usual, you can encourage farmers to plant different types of crops and this is happening in many parts of the world. You can also decide that you are going to use less of the water in dams to produce electricity, but to keep more for irrigation or domestic use." 

Jarraud says Bangladesh is one of the most dramatic examples of a country which has saved countless lives through its disaster preparedness program. He says about 30 years ago, a huge tropical cyclone killed about 250,000 people. Due to a shelter building program and early warning system, he says, the death toll from similar storms has been reduced to hundreds or even fewer. 

Humanity learned to fly 100 years ago today 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first free and controlled flight of a heavier-than-air machine. And, this week, thousands of people have traveled to Kitty Hawk to attend the First Flight Centennial Celebration at the site of the Wright Brothers' historic achievement in the U.S. state of North Carolina. 

The celebration culminates with a re-enactment of the Wright Brothers' flights of 1903 today. The site in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is a place that is hallowed ground for generations of aviators. 

At Kitty Hawk's Kill Devil Hills, the typically flat, beach landscape is punctuated by the Wright Brothers Monument, a masonry memorial pylon that sits high on the dune from which Orville and Wilbur Wright conducted more than 1,000 glider flights, before their first powered flight.

It was on Dec. 17, 1903 — with Orville at the controls — that the Wright Flyer first took to the air. It stayed aloft for 12 seconds, and traveled 37 meters. Later that day, the aircraft made its more famous 59-second flight, covering 260 meters. That’s 845 feet.

As National Park Service Historian Darrell Collins says, the ultimate success of the Wright Brothers powered flight hinged on their ability to control the aircraft, which they learned from years of experiments with gliders.

"They worked on trying to solve that problem of control from 1899 until 1902," he said. "And they solved that problem in the year of 1902 in a glider that they flew off the sand dunes at this site in almost a six-week period a thousand times."

The Wright brothers chose Kitty Hawk, a small fishing village on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, because it fit their need for a place with steady wind for lift, soft sand for landings and few obstacles. It was there that Collins says that the Wright Brothers worked together on the problems of flight that had eluded so many before them.

"From the very beginning, the Wright Brothers realized that this problem was just too great for one mind to solve," he said. "So it was the combination of the two brothers' minds, complementing each other's weaknesses, that made flight a reality."

Amanda Wright Lane is a descendant of the Wright Brothers. She says her great grand uncles, Wilbur and Orville, were well aware of the dangers of their experiments, and that other daring innovators had lost their lives trying to fly.

"They were certainly bright enough to know that they had to be very careful," she said. "In fact, that was the only negative that ever came back to them from family members was, their father wrote them a letter once and said, 'Sons, be careful.' He didn't ever say, 'You're crazy,' He didn't ever say 'Don't try this.' He said, 'You need to be careful.' And there is a letter from Will [Wilbur] back to him that said, 'Father, we will use the utmost precaution. We want to do this safely because, if we don't, we'll only have one chance at it.'"

Wilbur and Orville Wright got that chance, of course, and made the most of it. Of his first flight, Orville Wright later wrote that it was, "the first time in history that a piloted machine rose into the air under its own power, moved forward in the air without losing speed, and finally landed at a point as high as that from which it took off." 

Jo Stuart
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