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(506) 2223-1327        Published Monday, Dec. 22, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 253       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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There are positive and negative changes to report
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This past year has been very interesting and full of changes in Costa Rica.  Most notably, it seems property fraud and crime are on an increase.  The government has attempted to make some changes to the laws, but crime is noticeably worse than last year and the year before that, too.

Sometime around mid-year, while driving to Multiplaza del Este, this author and his daughter of 13 saw firsthand a women shot in cold blood at a bus stop by two men on a motorcycle who wanted to steal her packages.  This event was a horrifying experience especially for a 13-year-old girl.  She asked at the time, "Papi, is this what Costa Rica is becoming?" 

This past week this writer went back to the United States.  Going back to the States is not a common practice and usually it is only an annual event to attend a meeting.  Once in a very long while visiting family is part of the trip, as was the case this year.  While driving to Willington, North Carolina, with a sister, she said, "Garland you are like a frog in a pan." Baffled, I reply, "What do you mean"? 

"You tell me about your life in Costa Rica and about all the changes you have made to secure your family, you are like the proverbial frog in a pan." I asked her to explain further.  She said, "There is an old fable that a frog placed in cold water that is brought to a boil will make no attempt to escape."  She was referring to all the changes one makes to ones life — very slowly over time — that goes unnoticed to deal with surrounding problems.  She was right.  Costa Rica is downright dangerous to live in today, and the quality of life is disheartening at times.

During the trip back to Costa Rica, much reflection went into the conversation.  This author decided to become a Costa Rican citizen for many reasons and one of the most important ones was to try to make positive changes to the country.  The articles written for A.M. Costa Rica are one example in trying to make a difference.  Few in Costa Rica were writing about property fraud and other issues for expats before them.  This author believes they have made a difference and expats are now more aware and more careful in their business dealings.

When this author arrived with his family 36 years ago, Costa Rica was truly a paradise.  It has a good chance to be so again. It will just take time as with all evolution.  This writer is dedicated to making a difference with the help of A.M. Costa Rica, and this dedication will continue well past the New Year.

Alongside the increase in crime there are other important changes. Here are three this author believes deserve special mention:

Banking has changed big-time.  Trying to open a bank account is now very difficult and sometimes downright impossible.  The information required to do so is overwhelming.  U.S. expats have an added problem. Banking institutions want W-9 information for the United States government as well as the normal paperwork.   Some banks are even requiring the W-9 form for an expat that is part of a company.  It is probably due to the new banks opening offices here like HSBC and Citibank. Both surely
frog in a pan

have extensive reporting requirements to the United States.  

The transparency phantom stalking bank information this author wrote about in 2005 is alive and well and is much more scary than originally anticipated.   In addition to the phantom, the local tax watchdogs are getting their act together too.  New rules approved in 2008 will go into effect in 2009 and reporting requirements for everyone will be much more comprehensive.

Other changes include the country's increased efforts to police the maritime zone and the increased activities to tear down structures in areas that are considered public.  In addition to more controls over the maritime zone, the principle of "in dubio pro natura" — when in doubt regarding something to do with ecology, nature is the most important and wins in any dispute — has taken on a completely new force.   Mega projects have been closed down all over the country because they have failed to adhere to strict environmental requirements.   This fact along with the worldwide financial crises has put a big damper on real estate sales, seriously limiting new investments into the country.

Lastly — and funny — it was very enlightening the position the country took on prostitution and pimping back in July.   After much hoopla by the local press and two articles in this newspaper, 20 some brothels were closed down only to open a few weeks later with wheelchair ramps installed for the disabled.  The events made a clear statement to the world that the laws on the books for pimping are not enforced and that Costa Rica is the sex tourism destination everyone thinks it is much to the vehement denial of the government.

To all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, let it bring positive changes and a path to new hope for Costa Rica.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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Electric rates going up
15.11% for generation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency has granted the nation's major electric generator a 15.11 per cent rate hike, considerably less than the original 40 percent request.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad sought the higher increase, in part, because of skyrocketing petroleum prices.  But the price regulating agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, noted that the world petroleum price has come down significantly since the company gave a justifiction for the rate hike.

The price regulating authority also eliminated the difference between the high season and low season rates.  Instead, the additional cost of generating electricity during periods of minimal rain will be spread over the whole year.

About 10 percent of the nation's electricity comes from petroleum. The thermal generatores are fired up when hydro power is less than needed.

The price regulator also approved a 33.36 percent increase in the electrical rates allocated to transmission, a 17.11 percent increase in distribution costs and 23.63 percent increase in the assessment for public lighting.

The authoirty estimated that for a family paying 25,000 colons a month, some $45.50, the new rates will mean about a $7.80 increase or about 4,280 colons

Two more are named
to telecom authority

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The turf war between the Asamblea Legislativa and the  Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos ended Friday with the confirmation of the final two members of a telecom oversight panel.

The legislature had rejected two of the four names submitted a week earlier.

Getting 33 votes was Maryleana Méndez Sáenz. Also approved with 31 votes was Wálter Herrera Cantillo. They will join Carlos Raúl Gutiérrez Gutiérrez and George Petrie Miley Rojas on the board of directors of the  Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones.

Friday was the last scheduled day of the legislature. The next regularly scheduled day is Jan. 12. The vote was crucial because some legal opinions say that the free trade treaty with the United States could not come into effect unless the panel had been named. The treaty is supposed to become active Jan. 1. There still are some problems because officials found errors in two of the 13 pieces of implementing legislation the lawmakers passed.

The regulating authority had named four persons and submitted the names to the legislature as the law requries. But one of the nominees was a former legislature for the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana. Lawmakers had the option of not voting on the appointments. In that case, the nominations would have become finalized without legislative action. Just a day before this would have happened lawmakers brought the nominations onto the floor and voted down two names, including that of the former legislator.

Friday, the nominations went smoother, although one lawmaker, José Merino del Río, complained that Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández, assembly president, called for a vote before all laawmakers who wanted to do so had a chance to speak. Pacheco denied that.

Lawmakers also gave final approval to a measure that allocates $117.5 million to three state banks to give them more flexibility in lending.

Museum and registry hit
with damages over access

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has found that both the Museo Nacional and the Registro Nacional have violated the rights of the disabled in two separate case. Although the court ordered the public entities to pay costs, damages and other expenses associated with the case, a summary does not say the court ordered the museum or the registry to fix the situation.

The case against the museum came from a man with the last names of Rojas Villalobos. He said that the museum did not meet the legal requirements of a law that provided access for the disabled.

A woman with the last names of Umaña Ocampo brought the case against the Registro Nacional. She said that she was unable to reach the Área de Catastro of the registry. That section is located in the basement, the court noted.

Credit cards, bad checks prompt raid

 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Poder Judicial said Friday that eight locations in Pavas and Hatillo were raided by investigators and five persons were detained in an investigation of credit card and fake check fraud.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 253

Some protective rules for sports fish win approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura has agreed to halt exports of sailfish and to prohibit the use of live bait by commercial longline fishermen.

The rules were approved Friday by the institute's board of directors and received quick endorsement from The Billfish Foundation, a sportsfishing advocacy group.

Other rules prohibit sports fishermen from using a gaff on  sailfish, striped marlins, white marlins and swordfish to bring them closer to the boat or to raise them up for photographic purposes. Instead, sports fishermen must cut the line as close as possible to the hook and free the fish, according to the rules.

The use of live bait on longlines has been found to kill many sports fish, said the Billfish Foundation. The new rules also will require a special license to capture live bait to be used for other fish by commercial longline fishermen.

The new rules also limit to a 15 percent maximum of sailfish permitted as by-catch for commercial purposes. Anything over the limit will be confiscated, and fishing boats must undergo an inspection before docking.

“The primary concern was the exportation of sailfish meat which now will no longer be allowed as well as stopping the use of live bait by the commercial long-liners,” said Herbert Nanne. He is The Billfish Foundation's Central American conservation director and president of the fisheries institute from 1998 to 2002.

Nanne said for the full compliance of this agreement the
institute will form a special committee to include institute regional directors and sportsfishing sector representatives from Golfito and Quepos along with the Costa Rican coast guard.

He said the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura will inventory the sailfish stored in commercial freezers for export purposes no later than the Dec. 28. After these sailfish are sold no further export will be allowed. 

"These sailfish conservation measures are significant and the first in more than a decade in Costa Rica,” said Ellen Peel, Billfish Foundation president, “and we are proud that the collective efforts of many people were responsible for this victory."

Nanne added the conservation measures are the result of the work of many people united in the Costa Rican sailfish conservation front.

Russell Nelson, the foundation's scientific director said he and Nanne still have concerns regarding the vulnerability of sailfish that collect in certain areas. The sport fishing contingent had made complete closure requests to longline commercial fishing along the Pacific coast 30 miles out from Burica at the Costa Rica/Panamá border to Quepos during the months of January to May.

Those and some other time and zone buffer measures weren’t passed by the institute board, said Nelson       

Ms. Peel said the foundation will continue to work with the Costa Rican sportsfishing and tourism interests in pursuit of these goals and press for aggressive billfish conservation measures.

Colombian fighting spreads to border area in Panamá
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Colombian civil war moved closer to Costa Rica Dec. 11 when guerrilla terrorists clashed with at least a Panamá border service unit.

Two guerrillas died and a third suffered wounds and was taken captive, according to The Panamá News, which combined its own report with information from other newspapers there.

The guerrillas were believed to be members of the Frente 58 of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. That is the guerrilla unit active in Colombia's Choco department that is adjacent to Panamá.

Eric Johnson, of The Panamá News said that situation is confused by reports from Colombia that suggest army units from there entered Panamá to assist the border service.
"La Prensa has reported a Colombian government offensive against the rebels from at least six points along the border, and the Colombian newspaper El Espectador . . . reported that Colombian troops had crossed over into Panama during the operation of which the shootout was a part, on the day after the incident," wrote Johnson in his Dec. 19 edition.

A continuing concern in Panamá and even in Costa Rica is
 that the decades-long Colombian civil war will expand into nearby countries. At the very least, Costa Rica is a logistical base for Fuerzas Armadas drug smuggling and resupply. If Panamanian forces are working in conjunction with the Colombian military, Fuerzas Armadas guerrillas might take that as an invitation to move further into the adjacent country.

The border clash followed several days of reports that Colombians were crossing into Panamá "and robbing teachers and business owners — that is, the few people with things to steal — in Manene, which is on the Balsas River and is about 10 kilometers by jungle trail from the nearest border point," said Johnson.

A Fuerzas Armada leader, Héctor Orlando Martínez Quinto, was found living quietly in Barrio El Cocal in Puntarenas and arrested Aug. 10, 2006. He had been in the country at least since 2000. It was during his residency that the man left Costa Rica and participated in an armed attack against a village in the Chocó section of Colombia near the Panamá border where 85 persons, including 46 children, died and about 100 persons suffered injuries, officials alleged. He was extradited to Colombia.

The Frente 58 attacked the town and villagers fled to the local church. Some kind of explosive device landed in the church killing the 84 persons.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 253

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Boy, 14, with dream of being policeman goes on patrol
boy policeman
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
Andrey Araya Jiménez in patrol car.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Alajuela boy, Andrey Araya Jiménez, has a dream to be a Fuerza Pública officer.  He will not be able to realize that dream because he has cerebral palsy and can only communicate from his wheelchair with a pointer.

The Fuerza Pública provided the next best thing this weekend for the 14 year old. They arrived at his door  with a uniform in his size and took him for a patrol through his Barrio Desamparados de Alajuela.

The boy was accompanied by his father, Alexander Araya, who rode in the back seat.

The surprise was orchestrated by Juan José Andrade, head of the Fuerza Pública in the region.

Jenny Jiménez, the boy's mother, noted her son's special admiration for the front line police force.

He is the second of three children in the family. His brother, Jeremy, 10, has the same affliction.

Three main Internet cables cut and communication with Mideast disrupted
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Three main Internet cables from Italy to North Africa were inexplicably severed in the second such incident in a year, plunging Egypt and several other Arab countries into a communications crisis. Some suspect that sabotage was involved, although it is too soon to tell.

Egypt and other Arab countries from Libya to Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf are experiencing massive communications disruptions, following the abrupt and as yet unexplained cut of three key Internet cables which join southern Italy with Northern Africa.

Some 80 percent of all Internet traffic in Egypt was cut,
according to an official statement from the Egyptian telecommunications authority.
International telephone calls were also affected, but communications to North America appear to be more disrupted than communications with Europe.

Egyptian officials say they are attempting to re-route some Internet traffic via cables through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea.

The pan-Arab daily newspaper, Asharqalawsat, headlined: "Digital Darkness descends on Egypt and Elsewhere", reporting that the cuts were widespread and risk major economic implications if they continue.

Last year, Internet cable cuts caused major economic havoc from Egypt to the Persian Gulf and on to India. Those cuts took days to repair, forcing banks and other corporations to resort to old-fashioned technology to conduct business.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 253

A.M. Costa Rica

users guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
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.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

More terms for Chávez get
initial legislative approval

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela lawmakers have given preliminary approval for a referendum to scrap presidential term limits. 

The national assembly debated the constitutional amendment Thursday. It would allow President Hugo Chávez to run for re-election in 2012 and beyond. 

Election officials said the referendum on the amendment could be held in March if the lawmakers give their approval on the second reading of the draft amendment in January.

Government officials said Chávez supporters collected nearly five million signatures to symbolically support the amendment sought by the socialist leader. 

Last year, Venezuelans narrowly rejected a broad package of constitutional amendments that lifted term limits for the presidency. 

Chávez has asked voters to change Venezuela's constitution to move the country toward what he called 21st century socialism.

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Jo Stuart
Real Estate
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