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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 252          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Procuraduría General Web page
An important but little-used legal resource

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Going to get into a legal fight in Costa Rica?  Here is a great resource and it is free.

Most people do not know about the incredible Web site of La Procuraduría General de la República, the attorney general’s office of Costa Rica. This authority is the superior juridical organ and public administration technician for the country.  The attorneys of the Procuraduría represent the country in the legal matters when affairs of the state are at stake.

The Procuraduría Web site hosts el Sistema Costarricense de Información Jurídica, Costa Rica’s judicial information source.   It is part of the program of modernization of the administration of justice funded by a loan from the Interamerican Development Bank.

The system includes legislation from as far back as 1821 with laws, executive decrees, international conventions, and treaties, along with regulations, rules, and by-laws to apply the law.  Higher court decisions from appellate, cassation, and constitutional courts that form Costa Rica’s jurisprudence are all available online.

Navigating the Web site is simple once one becomes familiar with its nuances.  One aggravation is that not so complex searches end with incorrect or no results.  It is better to keep the search criteria to no more than four keywords. The system is all in Spanish, and there are no translations available, but almost every document is downloadable to a file for offline study.  It is nothing like the tax departments Web site that hardly works. 

This is a very important source to use when thinking about getting into a legal battle in Costa Rica.  Courts here use the Napoleonic legal system.  Napoleonic law’s foundation is ancient Roman law.  That is, laws put into writing so everyone can understand them.  This means there is a law, rule or regulation for everything.

This legal system is different from common law, which is a collection of laws and principles based on court precedent.  Judges interpret laws and statutes, and the ruling of one judge may influence or even control the ruling of another.

If this is true, why is the information available at the Procuraduría important?
Because studying the rulings of judges and courts can increase probabilities of success in court.

Does this mean going to court in Costa Rica is like a crapshoot?  Sometimes, yes!  One judge or court can take the same law and make a decision based on it completely opposite to that of another judge or court.

However, through research one can hypothesize outcomes because different court decisions by different judges can provide a feeling of how the legal decision makers perceive an issue.

Most foreigners have their own ideas about how the court system here should work.  They are the first to shout corruption when a case does not go their way. 

It is best to stay out of court in Costa Rica.  Legal fights can take years and drain financial resources and physical health fast.  Most attorneys play the role of paperpusher and not strategist.  Many lawyers do not know or use the resources at the Procuraduría or any other judicial information reference, for that matter.

Getting into a nasty legal action in Costa Rica is like two boys throwing mud pies over a fence.  One throws one pie, and the other tosses two.  Usually this goes on geometrically making lawyers wealthy.  The lawyers are always on the fence pointing to the next mud pie to pitch.

Courts in Costa Rica will be closed Dec. 23 to Jan. 16. but the Web site will be there for research and study.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info.  Copyright 2005, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 252

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Even city's flea market
goes into extended hours

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here's a quick Christmas shopping tip: The flea market has opened and will remain so for the rest of the week.

This is the market that usually operates Sundays just east of the city hall of the Municipalidad de San José in Sabana Este along Avenida 10.

Vendors were out Tuesday, the first day of the extended Christmas schedule with everything from large-screen televisions to old clothes. Many toys were on sale.

Although there might be some question from where a lot of the goods there come, certain professional flea market dealers have first-class products at very low prices. Of course the guarantee lasts only until the time a shopper pays the money.

In some cases, an astute shopper can save hundreds of dollars.  The market starts in mid-morning because the area is the city's main wholesale produce market early in the day.

Real estate fraud is
on upswing in U.S. too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

Costa Rica may have a bad reputation for real estate fraud, but these types of crimes are growing in number and sophistication in the United Statets, according to a Warren, Mich., broker who now devotes much of his time alerting the public.
U.S. residents have lost their homes to con artists preying on foreclosure situations, others have unwittingly become straw buyers in mortgage fraud set ups, while others are hiring criminal attorneys in the hopes that their naiveté will not ruin their credit scores for life and not land them in jail, said a statement from the broker.

Real estate transactions in Costa Rica depend largely on the trustworthiness of the lawyers and notaries involved because workers at the Registor Nacional, where deeds are kept accept any notarized document at face value.

So, too, in the United States the property transfer system is based largely on the good faith of those involved. The expectation is that police will quickly grab anyone who engineers a fraud.

But from handmade signs stuck on the side of local roads and on telephone poles to eBay listings seeking investors, late night infomercials and newspaper ads promising big cash at closings, real estate fraud and mortgage fraud have become part of America’s landscape, said Ralph Roberts, the broker.  The threat to families, communities and a national economy closely allied with real estate values cannot be underestimated, he said.  

“There is no doubt in my mind that the start of this century will be remembered as the decade of real estate scandals,” said Roberts, who also is an author and speaker on real estate fraud. He also created an anti-fraud Web site, www.flippingfrenzy.com.

“Every law enforcement agency, every district attorney and sheriff’s department I talk to is astounded at the sheer number of people being scammed, ripped off and financially destroyed through these scams.  If we do not educate consumers and all professionals to protect themselves, there will be no end in sight,” Roberts said.

Roberts has been top real estate salesman in the Detroit area for the past 18 consecutive years, and even his office fell prey to scam artists, he said. 

Ralph’s anti-fraud efforts include speaking to real estate professionals, mortgage professionals, lawyers, appraisers, notary publics and title industry professionals.  He made a presentation at the National Association of Realtors this year.

Roberts said a certain percentage of real estate fraud transactions could be completely eliminated by educated consumers to refuse to sign blank documents or take part in questionable sales or purchases.

Series of 16 drug raids
leads to arrests of 15 suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police agencies staged a massive narcotics sweep Tuesday morning and arrested 13 men and two women during raids of 16 homes in Puntarenas, Nicoya and Limón.

Agents said they confiscated 16 kilos of marijuana and cocaine as well as 4 million colons, about $8,000.

Police raided five homes in  Fray Casiano, a section of Puntarenas. Raids also took place in Parada 1, Parada 5, Parada 7  and San Luis de Fray Casiano of the same city. Other raids took place in Barrio 20 de Noviembre,  Carrizal de Puntarenas,  Doña Cecilia de Barranca and  Los Almendros de Barranca. In Nicoya a raid took place in  Barrio San Martín. The raid in Limón was in Barrio Cieneguita.

The operation was carried out by the Judicial Investigating Organization.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 252

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Daniel Soto          
All ready to add the goodies to the masa

Tamal time for the whole family or neighborhood
By Daniel Soto
A.M. Costa Rica columnist

One Latin American tradition that brings all the aspects of the meaning of Christmas charmingly together is the Costa Rican custom of making tamales.

The preparation of tamales usually involves the participation of the whole family or sometimes an entire neighborhood, with folks getting together to prepare the ingredients and assemble the tamales for cooking. It is a lot of fun and one of those marvelous old traditions that brings everyone together in congenial holiday fellowship.

Costa Rican and also Nicaraguan tamales are different from the Mexican or Cuban varieties, and actually have a bit more in common with the Venezuelan version known as the hayaca.

So, gather your friends and family together and let’s make tamales for Christmas! It’s fun and the result is delicious. Here’s a recipe for Costa Rican-style tamales:

The masa or dough:

Melt 1 stick of butter in 1 cup boiling beef broth. Slowly add 2 ½  cups of masa harina, stirring continuously over medium heat until mixture reaches the consistency of a thick paste. If it’s too thin add a bit more masa harina, if it becomes too thick to stir, add a little more broth. But it’s important that the masa not become too thin for molding by hand. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

The fillings:

2 lbs. pork tenderloin boiled, cut into ½ inch cubes

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast boiled, cut into ½ inch cubes

1 cup defrosted frozen peas
1 cup green stuffed Spanish olives
1 cup raisins
2 medium carrots, boiled and sliced
½ cup capers
2 bell peppers cleaned, seeded, and cut cut into thin  

1 cup canned garbanzos
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced.

The last step is to boil the packets

The leaves:

The banana leaves should be “cured” by placing them in boiling water with two tablespoons of olive oil (or lard, if you want to be very authentic and don’t fear the cholesterol) for about 5 to 7 minutes. After the leaves have cooled, cut them into 4x6 inch rectangles

Assembling the tamales:

Place 3 to 4 tablespoons of the reserved masa in the middle of one of the banana leaf sections. Form the masa into a rectangular brick. Into the masa press 1 cube of pork tenderloin, 1 cube of chicken breast, 3 – 4 peas, 1 olive, 3 – 4 raisins, 1 carrot slice, and 2 – 3 garbanzos.

Garnish with a strip or two of bell pepper, a few of the capers, and a slice of boiled egg. 

Wrap the tamale in two banana leaf sections, the one that’s already on the bottom and another placed on the top and secure the package with string from left to right and top to bottom tied in the middle.

Drop the assembled tamales into a pot of boiling water and cook over medium high heat for one hour.  Remove from the boiling water. Allow tamales to cool 10 – 15 minutes before serving. Yields approximately 10 – 12 tamales. ¡Disfrute!

The assembled tamal is ready to be folded into two layers of banana leaves before being put in boiling water for at least an hour.

The food product is a tamale in English, and the plural is tamales in both languages. But in Spanish the singular is tamal.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 252

U.S. says relationship with Bolivia rests with Morales
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Tuesday congratulated Evo Morales, the leftist politician who has apparently won Bolivia's presidential election. The State Department said the quality of the U.S.-Bolivian relationship under Morales will depend on the policies his government pursues.

Morales said during the campaign that he would at least partially legalize the country's coca industry, and that if elected he would be "a thorn in side" of United States.

But the Bush administration is taking a low-key response to Morales' apparent victory in Sunday's vote, with the State Department extending congratulations to him and the Bolivian people, and saying the future course of the relationship is up to Bolivia.

Morales was the biggest vote getter in the multi-candidate race though it was unclear whether final returns would give him the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid sending the issue to the Bolivian Congress.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated a congratulatory statement made earlier in the day by his White House counterpart, Scott McClellan.

He said U.S. officials hope that with the election, Bolivians can begin to move beyond the difficult period of the last two years in which two presidents were driven from office by political unrest.

"As for the future, we'll see what kind of policies the next Bolivian president pursues, and that the kind of
relationship, and the quality of the relationship between the United States and Bolivia will depend on what kind of policies they pursue, including how they govern," he said.  "Do they govern democratically, and do they have a respect for democratic institutions?"

Morales is a former head of the country's coca-growers federation, and has said he intends to legalize industrial uses of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine.

He told a news conference in La Paz Tuesday that despite his stance, there will be no cocaine or narco-trafficking in Bolivia.

Morales invited the United States to join in effectively battling drug traffic, but without the aggressive tactics of the past, which he said have been an excuse for U.S. intervention in other countries.

The United States has provided Bolivia with tens of millions of dollars a year in anti-drug aid, much of it directed to coca eradication programs resented by local farmers dependent on the crop.

Drug control experts say the personal and industrial uses for coca leaves cited by Morales are limited, and that most of the country's production ends up being processed into cocaine for illegal export.

Morales has established close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist who has had an antagonistic relationship with the United States.

Under questioning, spokesman McCormack said the United States has no inherent problem with leftist, or right-leaning Latin American governments for that matter, provided they govern effectively and democratically.

Bush praises Danilovich for speeding up Millennium Challenge aid
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some 23 countries are being considered for targeted U.S. assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corp., said John Danilovich, the agency's new chief executive officer.

At Danilovich's swearing-in ceremony at the State Department Tuesday, President George Bush praised the agency's new head for accelerating the aid application process. Danilovich began duties there Nov. 7. He is the former ambassador to Costa Rica and to Brazil.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. administers the Millennium Challenge Account,  a program launched nearly two years ago to provide additional U.S. aid to countries that demonstrate progress in three main areas: governing justly, investing in people and encouraging economic freedom.
Six countries already have been granted Millennium Challenge funding. Friday the Millennium Challenge Corp. announced that Armenia as the latest country approved to receive MCA funding.

Millennium Challenge aid is granted for specific multiyear programs such as improving property rights for people in Madagascar, helping farmers in Honduras and Nicaragua get more of their products to markets faster, rebuilding an energy pipeline in Georgia and constructing new roads and bridges in Cape Verde. 

In Armenia, funds will go to reduce rural poverty.

"The Millennium Challenge Account has the potential to transform the way the world delivers aid," Bush said at the ceremony.  "The MCC is an integral part of our strategy to fight poverty and to encourage economic development," he said.

Germany frees Lebanese hijacker who killed a U.S. sailor 20 years ago
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Germany has freed a Lebanese man who was sentenced to life in prison for hijacking an American airliner and killing a U.S. Navy diver 20 years ago.

German justice officials confirmed Tuesday that Mohammed Ali Hamadi was released on parole after a routine review of his case, and they say he already has left Germany.

Sources in Lebanon say Hamadi, a member of the
Hezbollah militant group, has returned to Beirut, the focal point of the 1985 hijacking.

Hamadi was convicted in the hijacking of a TWA airliner that took off from Athens in 1985. U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, a passenger on the plane, was killed while the commandeered jet was on the ground in Beirut.

The German Foreign Ministry has denied any link between Hamadi's parole and the recent release of a German hostage in Iraq.

Jo Stuart
About us

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