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(506) 223-1327         Published Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 250               E-mail us
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Anniversary beer no palate pleaser

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


There is a new beer making the rounds. It is called 1460, and it is being brewed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Bavaria brand.  Bavaria is produced, as is most Costa Rican beer, by Florida Bebidas S.A.  1460 is supposed to be a German beer, Dortmund style.

The beer is being attributed to an innovative 15th century brewer identified as Frederick Braun, according to the label on the bottle. But anyone who is expecting a thrilling taste better look elsewhere. The new beer has the same light, semi-sweet taste that characterizes nearly all Florida Bebida's products.

The Bavaria family also includes Gold, Light and Dark. With the possible exception of Dark, each is just a step up from tap water. Florida Bebidas also makes Heineken under contract, and this is the only product that approaches real beer.

The company must be doing something correctly because it sells 150 million liters (39.6 million gallons) of beer a year. Because it is the dominant beer distributor, frequently called a monopoly, drinkers have little choice. And most Costa Ricans have not been exposed to the full range of beers.

The new arrival seems to be a cross of the best-selling Imperial light lager and the saccharine Rock Ice. In the famous words of Frederick Braun: "Draw me a Guinness, please"
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An empty 1460



For hotels and resorts, it's the lull before the storm
By Anne Clark
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Like the calm before a storm, hotels throughout Costa Rica are enjoying some quiet time.  Next week, the mobs will descend, putting the stress on the country's top tourist destinations. 

It's the same story at virtually every major hotel.  Plenty of availability now, but by Christmas Eve, the rooms are completely booked.  The Lost Iguana Resort, a relatively new business overlooking Arenal Volcano, has sold out all of its luxury rooms priced between $185 to $365.  “We expect it to be busy next week,” says receptionist Andres Conejo.  “December 22, 23, 24 we are full.  On the 25th we have three rooms, the 26th, two rooms and 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st are full.  I think it was the same last year, but more people, just a little, not much.”  Lost Iguana is expecting to be maxed out Dec. 23, when the resort expects 102 guests.

Hotels on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are anticipating full capacity during the next few weeks.  Casa Roland's Villas Lirio, located between Quepos and Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific Coast, has nothing available for Christmas or New Year's.  Employees there expect to be much busier than last year as they are expecting to be full. 

Playa Tamarindo's El Milagro and El Jardin del Eden are both relatively quiet now but are booked solid next week.  A receptionist for El Milagro,
said “We have 32 rooms, all full.  It's the same as last year.”  Hotel Suerre in Punta Uva on the Caribbean is booked from Dec. 25 through Jan 3, said receptionist Jacqueline Amberson.  “It's full those days.  50 to 60 people every day.  The same as last year,” she said.

Even inland, at resorts located not at beaches or volcanoes, the businesses are feeling the crunch of the masses.  Xandari Resort and Spa in Alajuela is not full yet but has few openings on select days. 

The firm's other resort location, however, is on Playa Esterillos between Jacó and Quepos.  Receptionist Marcela Arias says, “The beach location is totally booked through Jan. 4.  The Central Valley occupancy is the same as last year and the beach location occupancy is higher but we have more rooms available this year.” 

The hotels are expecting business to quiet down again early in the New Year when tourists return to their regularly scheduled lives.

Those seeking a last-minute booking might do better checking out smaller operations. Laguna Lodge in Tortuguero said rooms still were available and that the bookings were slower than last year.

Out of Bounds Hotel in Escazú with just five rooms reported some openings, even on Christmas Day. Owner Matteo Brancacci noted that the hotel opened in February so this is the first Christmas.


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Jacó real estate salesman
held as fugitive from U.S.


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police agents and immigration officers arrested a U.S. citizen who was wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in Jacó Monday. He had been working for six months there as a real estate salesman, they
said. He was arrested inside the real estate company, agents said.

The man is Charles Edward Boy Vance, 41, they said. The man faces charges in the U.S. State of Minnesota of robbery, assault, and drug trafficking, said the International Police Agency, which participated in the arrest. The FBI was involved because the man is considered a fugitive.

According to an INTERPOL report, Boy Vance fled the United States in order to avoid facing charges for a number
U.S. fugitive
Charles Boy Vance
of crimes, including assault with a firearm. When arrested, the suspect was carrying a  fake Mexican passport, said officials.

The San José division of the International Police Agency was alerted about Boy Vance in May 2006 by the FBI. Since then, they said, he has resided in various parts of Costa Rica including Escazú, Pavas and Rohrmoser.

Boy Vance is being considered an illegal resident by the Policía Especial de Migración, they said. He will be subject to deportation proceedings.  Although he was considered dangerous by North American authorities, he did not resist arrest, according to agents.

U.S. jacks up visa fees
from $100 to $131


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States has jacked up the cost of a tourist visa 31 percent from $100 to $131.

Earlier U.S. officials decided foreigners needed a visa even if they were simply touching down briefly at a U.S. airport on a commercial jet.

Then the United States said that instead of taking a digital image of one of an applicant's fingers, all 10 fingers would have to be scanned.

Now the U.S. Embassy here reports that the increase in the price is necessary due to the new costs related to the new technology and inflation.

An embassy announcement said that a 2004 study showed that the cost of issuing the visa was more than $100. One gripe by Costa Ricans is that the embassy does not refund the money if the visa is denied.

Those who already have paid their $100 fee at a local bank and have an appointment before Feb. 1 can obtain a visa at the old rate. But even those who already have paid and made an appointment for Feb. 1 and later will have to pay the new rate, said the embassy announcement.

Granada appeals court frees
U.S. man facing 30 years


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. man convicted of murdering his girlfriend in Nicaragua was absolved by the Sala Penal del Tribunal de Apelaciones in Granada Monday, and he is scheduled to be freed today.

The man Eric Volz, formerly of Nashville in the U.S. State of Tennessee, had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in the murder of Doris Ivanez Jiménez Nov. 21, 2006. That rape and murder took place in a store in San Juan del Sur.

The problem was that cell phone records show Volz was two hours away in Managua at the time. He was convicted in a strange trial where a principal witness against him was Julio Martin Chamorro, a man who admitted participating in the murder. He said that Volz and another U.S. citizen paid him $5,000 to participate.

A man who originally was arrested for investigation involving the crime, Nelson López Dangla, also became a state witness. He showed physical signs of having participated in violent sexual relations when he was examined shortly after the crime.

The 30-year sentence against Chamorro was confirmed by the appeals court.

The case brought Nicaraguan justice into a bad light because, according to the lawyer hired by Volz, the man was convicted with no evidence.

Still some in the judicial system believe Volz was involved.   Julio Centeno Gómez, the nation's chief prosecutor, said there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Volz was involved in the murder. So did one of the three appeals magistrates who voted to keep Volz locked up.

Ivett Toruño was the trial judge, and she concluded that the calls made on the cell phone of Volz were not made by him. That finding destroyed his alibi.

The trial was conducted amid anti-U.S. sentiment.

Volz was publisher of El Puente magazine in Nicaragua.

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Villalobos magistrates will get 250 letters, Manners says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

John Manners, one of the leaders of the informal group supporting the Villalobos Brothers, said he has 250 letters to deliver to magistrates who are hearing the Oswaldo Villalobos appeal.

Neither Manners nor most of those who wrote the letters are players in the Oswaldo Villalobos case, but they are seeking to influence the decision on the aggravated fraud and illegal banking convictions. The group called for a letter-writing campaign.

An oral argument on the appeal will be held today in the Corte Suprema de Justicia. Magistrates in the Sala III high criminal court ordered the oral audience Nov. 23 when they handled related appeals.

Meanwhile, Manners and his group, the United Concerned Citizens & Residents, have distributed a series of e-mails and posted to a Web site what is expected to be the crux of the Villalobos lawyers' presentation.

The appeal centers on technical matters. The lawyers are challenging participation of victims of the Villalobos Brothers' high-interest borrowing scheme, mainly those represented by Ewald Acuña Blanco. The defense lawyers are trying to show that many of the victims never were in Costa Rica when they authorized Acuña to represent them.

The Sala III has accepted additional evidence on this point but declined Nov. 23 to allow defense requests to examine the phone records of the Acuña law firm.

The defense lawyers also say that the judge who oversaw the raid on the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house July 4, 2002, was accredited to the first judicial circuit, whereas the office is in the second judicial circuit.

For its part, the United Concerns Citizens & Residents say in their Web posting that the case is a result of a grand conspiracy:

"When viewed in its totality, this case leads one to believe that there may have been conspiracy initially and collusion throughout.  If the Supreme Court does not find sufficient reason to overturn the conviction and sentence of the Tribunal, it would also be reasonable to assume that the High Court is either ignorant of the applicable laws or does not choose to uphold them."
Oswaldo Villalobos is the brother who did not flee the court's jurisdiction. He participated in a trial that ended in his conviction in May. The appeal stems from that conviction and the lengthy prison sentenced handed down by the trial judges.

The other brother, the one more closely identified with the money capturing operation, is Luis Enrique Villalobos. He did not participate in the Nov. 23 appeal but his wife did. She is Dana Paula Dinculescu Nicola. She was represented by Villalobos lawyer Juan Guillermo Tovar González. Her appeal was that some of the assets frozen in the case really belonged to her and not to Oswaldo Villalobos. The appeals court rejected that claim.

Ms. Dinculescu was identified in the trial as one of the persons who had the power to accept money from customers who did not have a recommendation. There never had been an explanation as to why the prosecutors did not seek to charge her also. Her participation by a representative was a surprise because she has not been heard from for years.

Enrique Villalobos paid investors up to 3 percent a month in a long-running operation that was identified as a ponzi scheme by the trial court. The court issued a detailed explanation of its decision that ran to nearly 1,000 pages. The defense lawyers will try to attack that explanation by claiming that there was so much evidence that the judges cold not have understood all of it.

Testimony and evidence at the trial implicated Oswaldo Villalobos as a major actor in the investment scheme, too. That is why he was convicted.

The Manner's group had been soliciting letters of support for Oswaldo Villalobos by telephone. Their approach is unusual because they are not involved in the case in any way except as investors who also lost their money when the Villalobos operation folded in November 2002. The group was a major force in getting a number of victims to drop their legals claims with the hope that the fugitive brother would return and pay off what he owes. The operation had about $1 billion on its books through investments and rolled-over interest when it closed.

Among the appeals that will be heard today are those by some investors who did pursue legal remedies but were not awarded a settlement by the trial court. In Costa Rica criminal and civil claims frequently are heard together.


New book dwells on the social aspects of food and eating
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Food is not just a selfish pleasure or a way to stifle hunger, but is central to the evolution of art, according to a new book published by Museos del Banco Central.
Artworks by Costa Rican painters are the main content of the hardback book, “Imagenes para Comer,” which follows the representation of food in art since still life painting became popular in the Renaissance.

Full-color pictures of both traditional and modern works are far more common than recipes, as the author Marjorie Ross only provides seven recipes within the book. All are traditional Costa Rican dishes showing influences from different sections of the community, such as corn fritters, white beans and chorizo and fruit salad.

The book focuses on the meanings that food has within society, and how these are portrayed by art. Images of people eating together at a table represent themes of social cohesion, keeping families and communities together and giving them a chance to discuss important matters.

Diverse types of food also chart Costa Rica's history, as ancient foods such as avocados and corn that have been native to Central America for thousands of years appear alongside food brought from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean after "discovery" by the Spaniards.

Food production can also be political, and Ms. Ross points out that the Teatro Nacional, where a number of the artworks presented by the book are displayed, would not have been built without funds from the coffee elites.

The book provides a short and colorful perspective on the way Costa Rican art can reflect the functions of something that is often taken for granted, but actually has deep cultural significance.
book on Costa Rica cooking
A.M. Costa Rica/Helen Thompson
Cover of 'Imagenese para comer'

Marjorie Ross is a Costa Rican lawyer and journalist who is a specialist in the history of gastronomy and also a food critic who has published a dozen books in the past.

An English summary is provided at the end of the book, but the sections in Spanish go into more depth. It is available for 15,000 colons (about $30) from the gift shop in the Museos del Banco Central.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 250

boomers new ad


Fidel Castro says he will not stand in the way of a younger generation of leaders
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has not been seen in public in more than 16 months because of ill health, says that he will not obstruct the rise of a new generation of leaders.

In a letter read on Cuban television Monday, Castro said his elemental duty is not to hold onto positions or stand in the way of younger people.

It was the first suggestion from the 81-year-old Castro that
he might step down permanently from the presidency. He handed over power to his brother, Raúl, in July 2006 to undergo surgery, but said the move was temporary. He has yet to reclaim presidential powers.

Fidel Castro has since appeared in official photographs and videos and regularly is credited with essays on international themes. Details of his health have been kept secret by the Cuban government.

The Cuban leader seized power in a 1959 revolution.


Reevaluation of beach concessions bring opposite views
More tax here is inevitable
but Gringos hate to pay


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
 
The negative impact on Costa Rica of people owning land and having to pay real estate taxes is truly dark humor. Very dark.
 
Americans are threatening to leave and others not to come. Mr. Phil Baker, a seemingly expert on Costa Rica who lives in San Diego, California, probably a very nice man, is irate enough to play the proverbial race card in his letter to the editor suggesting that the new assessments target foreigners and not Ticos and if Ticos are to be taxed, "I would suspect that Ticos will not pay them." Trust me, Mr. Baker, Ticos own one hell of lot more coastal concessions than foreigners, a lot more, and they have not been overlooked.
 
How is it tolerable to foreigners that 97 percent of our sewage is dumped into rivers and finds it way to our beaches, that 45 percent of the Pacific Coast buildings are constructed without permits, that 72 percent of the people polled by the Universidad de Costa Rica are afraid to walk on the streets at night for fear of being harmed, that in the San Jose province an estimated 16 drivers per day are assaulted and robbed, that reportedly some $8 million dollars has been stolen by Internet thieves from customer bank accounts and there is no accountability, not to mention a surprise 4 percent devaluation of the U.S. dollar . . .  but the real deal breaker is paying taxes.
 
We all know how the game worked in the past. You bought a piece of land for its real market value, took advantage of an archaic honor reporting system, declared an absurdly low assessed value on the land and paid $200 per year concession fees on beachfront property now being sold by the thousands of real estate agents in Costa Rica for $1.2 million.

Well, that piece of land has been doubled, perhaps tripled, maybe even quadrupled in value, and Mr. Tax Man says: "Pay on the the true value." He's not asking to pay on profit as in capital gains, only on current value.
 
But what the Costa Rican tax people do not grasp is that Americans fought its revolution over taxes, we hate to pay them, many "Gringos" live here because they do not or did not and will not pay them now or in the future.
 
What expats seem to have overlooked is that right behind the free trade treaty but before China the Arias administration's fiscal plan was evolving. This is no secret as the administration has said from day one that a new tax plan is essential to Costa Rica.

What is a surprise is the speed and mega-percent increase of taxes/fees to be paid on concession property. But then that is Costa Rica. One day your electric bill is one rate and next week it jumps 20 percent, or does ICE want 25 percent this time?
 
It might be wise to look into the Arias fiscal plan before cutting your wrists. Then again, you might want to cut them after reading the many proposals such as charging tax on foreigners entering Costa Rica by airplane, plus another tax on tourists leaving the country. Not to mention declaring and taxing foreign income, the same as in the U.S. There is still on the table the idea of taxing all financial transactions, including ATM usage.

On the other hand, non-profits, churches and sportsbooks are exempt. (Sportsbooks pay a flat fee not more than $40,000 per year.)
 
Will all this come to pass? Who knows? It's Costa Rica. But, with a little help from their friends at the Internal Revenue Service, it's a pretty good bet that with time all our taxes will increase and will be collected. Will the roads be fixed with this new found wealth? Another big "who knows?"
 
John Holtz
Santa Ana
New assessments is just
new kick at the haves


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

One has to wonder what the government imagines will be the outcome of this kick to the groin of property owners along the coast. There's a very real risk that, combined with the real estate bust in the U. S., the continuing deterioration of the Costa Rican infrastructure, and the growing concern among foreigners and tourists about their personal safety, this misguided policy could cause a SUBSTANTIAL downward "adjustment" of real estate values in general, which in turn would hamstring an already shaky economy. Timing is everything!

I get the concept. Take from those the government considers "rich" and give to those the government knows are poor. Redistribute the wealth. Get folks out of the slums and into clean, safe housing that affords them a little dignity and hope. This is the moral duty of every government. But you don't create balance within any economic system by jamming your thumb down on one side of the scales. The last thing you want to do is create a shock to the system. This is basic economic theory. At least outside of Costa Rica it is. Here, the government seems to favor the shotgun approach to pretty much everything.  
 
But the thing I find especially troubling is the PHILOSOPHY behind the rate hikes. Seems to be born of the same old-same old, that all foreigners are wealthy, that we're all getting a free ride at the expense of Ticos, (who hardly pay any taxes at all), and that it's time we pay through our collective noses for our imagined sins against the good people of Costa Rica. So stick it to the extranjeros. And yes, I know, the tax bills here are minuscule compared to the U. S., for instance. That's why many foreigners COME here. If they smell a nasty change in the wind, they may set sail for other ports. The government can't tax people and properties that don't exist.

Personally, I'm sick of this nonsense. I came here five years ago with an open heart and an open wallet, with the intention of retiring here and contributing to the economy of Costa Rica and the well-being of Ticos through investment in conscious, environmentally sustainable development. To date, I've invested more than $850,000 here, money that has put food on the table for dozens of Tico families over the years. (The average Tico makes about $5,000 a year. During construction of a home, I put that much into the local economy in a WEEK!)

Each time some new insult is launched in my direction, like this tax nonsense, I come closer to folding up my tent and leaving the country. If I do, the economy of Quepos/Manuel Antonio will lose more than $1,000,000.

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this frustration and psycho emotional burnout, just as I'm sure that all of the "if you don't like it, go-homeys" will get all warm and fuzzy inside when they read about yet another foreign resident/investor all atwitter with the fight-or-flight response, and leaning towards flight. They've made it clear through their letters to A. M. Costa Rica that they pine for the good ol', pre investment boom days. Well hang onto your hats, kids. And be careful what you wish for.

What's desperately needed here is an informed, empowered government agency that actually takes the time/makes the effort to examine both the short- and long-term effects of the misaligned and counter productive edicts spit out by the various government entities that passes for "policy." (If such an agency already exists, those in charge should all be run out of town on a mango stump.)

This lack of logic in the government's direction in general, (they make the Keystone Kops look like a precision drill team), and in the tax hike in particular won't help the poor in the long run. It will create MORE poor people not fewer. But hell! If things REALLY fall apart here, the government may be able to house the poor in beachfront condos.

Dean Barbour 
Manuel Antonio


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 250



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