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Universal de Idiomas

(506) 223-1327         Published Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 244               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
About us

New chapter: 'I want my house back!'
Judges are a girl's best friend when extortion's afoot
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The second part of a true story of an expat's agony and defeat is supposed to end today. The Gringo has to pay his girlfriend to get his house back.

This poor man was thrown out of his house one evening for raising his voice to his girlfriend’s adult son, a punk rock type known to use hard drugs like crack cocaine. The expat spent the night in a very cold and uncomfortable jail cell.  In the lockup, he had to listen to his girlfriend yuck it up with the police officers who arrested him.  The morning after, the police took him in front of a judge who gave him a cold shoulder and would not listen to his side of the story.  Every since that awful day the poor man has had to rent another place and fight for his rights.  In the hotel where he is now living, there are two other men in the same predicament.

Rights? What rights? No one at the court ever listened to him.  The judge set a preliminary hearing for Sept. 27, but on the day of the audience, the judge canceled the hearing and set a new date of Nov 1. This was maddening for the expat. He had arranged to travel back to the United States to accompany his elderly mother through some medical treatments and did not expect to be back in Costa Rica Nov. 1.  His father passed away last year leaving his aging mother alone.  He wrote a petition to the judge asking for an earlier court date. What a mistake. The judge set the hearing back even more to Dec. 4, three long months from the date he was forced out of his own home by a live-in girlfriend.

The expat could do nothing but wait for Dec. 4 so he could have his date in court and, hopefully, an honest hearing of the facts.  He wanted to be well prepared so he asked the court if he could have a translator.  Officials at the court told him he could bring any translator in whom he had confidence.

Dec. 4, the Gringo arrived an hour early at the court well dressed in his best business suit.  He also had a women attorney to represent him and a translator he trusted.  His girlfriend arrived at the last minute with her son dressed for the event hiding his shaved head and Mohawk haircut under a baseball cap.

The judge appeared at around 10 a.m. for the scheduled 9:30 a.m. hearing only to say she had another case and would have to postpone the hearing again until after the holidays.  The court system closes this year from Dec. 21 to Jan. 7.  The expat’s lawyer insisted on a hearing. The judge conceded but said everyone would need to wait three hours for her to finish the other case.  Everyone decided to wait.

The girlfriend's attorney walked over to the expat’s lawyer and gave him a file.  He said, “Does your client want his house back?” If so he has to pay everything in this file and in addition pay a cash settlement of four figures, said the attorney.

The Gringo’s lawyer told him the terms to get his house back.  He thought about it long and hard.  He was sick of living in a hotel for three months.  He had driven by his house a couple of times only to find his girlfriend let the grass and weeds grow ruining his gardens.  The property in general looked completely unkempt and abandoned.  One of his dogs was gone. He later learned someone had stolen it.
house keeper

The judge finally called the parties to begin the hearing.  She said to the Gringo that his translator was not on the court list of approved translators.  He said, “I was told by officials here I could bring a translator of my choosing.”  The judge said, “Sorry, whoever you talked to was mistaken, I will move this audience to February.”

The expat was broken. He was going to have to wait two more months for another court date.  He decided to agree to his girlfriend’s terms and pay her off.

Today’s domestic violence law in Costa Rica is one-sided, created to protect women and only women.  In many cases, women abuse the law and in some instances use it to steal from men.

A man could take a woman home for one night and get thrown out of his house by that person.  The reason for this is, the man has no voice, and the police when they arrive will not listen to him in most cases.  Their instructions and training mandate them to remove the male — period.

Many expat men come to Costa Rica to find peace and tranquility and end up shooting themselves in the foot.  Others come for the wrong reasons.

If a man is going to become romantically involved with a woman, he should probably think twice about inviting her to his home. 

In a longer-term relationship, any man living — married or unmarried — with a woman in Costa Rica should know the domestic violence law, Law 8589 "The Penalization For Violence Against Women," like the back of his hand.

There may be another chapter to this story. The Gringo involved now has a new girlfiend.

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  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at A link to a  complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2007, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 244

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airport work
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Work continues despite the inauguration of new boarding areas at airport.
Some boarding lounges
opened at Juan Santamaría

By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, cut a ribbon with the colors of the Costa Rican flag Friday to inaugurate new boarding salons that have more than doubled the size of the Juan Santamaría airport passenger facilities.

Eight boarding gates, four bridges and six immigration points were opened in a ceremony involving Karla Gonzalez, the transport mininster, and Arias, the president's brother, who said that the growth of the airport was of direct benefit to all Costa Ricans.  The modernizations were begun in 2001 to cope with the ever increasing number of tourists.

“Next high season we are expecting 300,000 people each month to use the airport,” said Monica Nagel, the executive director of Alterra Partners, the company who carried out the work and manages the airport under a contract. “We are proud that our country is a growing tourist destination which generates employment for the whole country.” That number is about 15 percent more passengers who passed through the airport during high season last year.

The new salons, which total 4,400 square meters, represent a 130 percent increase in the size of the airport's waiting rooms, and up to 17 airplanes can park at the airport's gates at the same time. The $15 million update is not yet completed, however, with men still working on waiting rooms in the downstairs part of the airport.

Arias and Yunus seeking
end to poverty in 50 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez called on universty students Friday to unite with the world and eliminate poverty.

As students from Universidad Escuela de Agronomia del Trópico Húmedo or EARTH, waited to recieve their diplomas Friday morning, they listened to speeches from President Arias and fellow Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. The two men spoke about ending poverty and the role the students would play in the years to come.

Yunus, creator of the Grameen Bank, which is known as the “bank for the poor,” won the Nobel Prize just last year. The bank, founded in 1983, is said to use a low interest micro-credit system which is available to impoverished populations around the world. A credit program used by the Costa Rican Grameen Association has helped more than 3,000 women from Limón Province, according to EARTH University.

“Dr. Yunus has said 'poverty does not belong in civilized societies. Its appropriate place is in a museum,'" quoted Arias. “'Fifty years from now poverty is something children will contemplate in a school exhibtion, filled with incredulity and horror because of their ancestors, this idea can change the world and it is an idea Costa Rica already knows something about,” said Arias.

Ninety students graduated from the university which is located in Guácimo, Limón. The university is dedicated to agricultural sciences and natural resources and states as its goal “to contribute to sustainable development in the tropics by seeking a balance between agricultural production and environmental preservation.”

CATIE grads told to create
even distribution of resources

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Graduating university students were told Friday they are expected to create a balanced distribution of the world's resources, reduce unjustifiable levels of poverty and hunger, and reverse environmental destruction. That may sound like quite a lot for a small class in central Costa Rica, but then again, this isn't just another liberal arts college.

The university, El Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza or CATIE, specializes in science and environmental agriculture. The school describes itself as a teaching grounds for reduction of poverty in Latin America, management of natural resources and sustainable rural development.  Its members include students from all over Latin America. This year's graduate degrees included: tropical agro-forestry, management and conservation of biodiversity, management of hydrographic river basins and management of socioeconomic environment.

This year 56 students graduated with a master's degree and 14 received their doctorate.

An honorary doctorate was given to Dr. Rodrigo Gámez Lobo, president of Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad and a former professor at University of Costa Rica. Gámez was recognized for his scientific contributions and work in education and development in countries throughout Latin America. His work has also influenced the political world, and Gámez was invited by former president Abel Pacheco to participate in the del Consejo de Notables and analyze possible effects of the free trade agreement.

“We must work on creating solutions to confront the global changes and to revert those that have already damaged the ecosystems,” said Gámez. This was the 61st graduation. The campus is located in Turrialba.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 244

Consumer law could help those victimized by Internet thefts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bank customers who have lost money through Internet scams may be able to get their money back based on a Sala III decision over the March 2005 bank robbery in Monteverde.

The Sala III, the highest criminal court, determined in November that a consumer law covers those who were damaged in the abortive bank robbery. Nine persons, including three robbers, died in the crime.

The Sala III decision issued in November, stems from the trial of the surviving bandit, Erlyn Hurtado, who was sentenced to hundreds of years in prison. At the same time the Puntarenas trial court did not levy damages against Banco Nacional nor against the guard company that was providing security.

In the appeal, the Sala III equated the case to one in which a San José supermarket was held responsible when thieves stole the vehicle of a shopper. That case was decided in another Corte Suprema de Justicia chamber in April.

The essence of the decision is that commercial establishments are responsible for what happens on their premises. The decision also has wide application for business owners in Costa Rica who may find themselves held accountable for actions of unrelated third parties if a customer is injured.

The consumer law, No. 7472, said in part that the producer, the provider and the merchant should answer together and independently for the existence of a fault if the consumer is injured by goods or services, or as a result of inadequate or insufficient information about them or their use and risks.
The Sala III decision did not seem to put sufficient emphasis on any fault that may have existed in the Monteverde case. In fact, a security guard suffered serious bullet wounds defending the bank and its customers. The fault in the case of the stolen vehicle was inattention in that the motorist had put his car in the hands of employees.

The public banking institutions have been plagued by electronic thefts from the accounts of their customers. One expat lost $215,000 from an account at Banco de Costa Rica, and the nation's chief prosecutor places the amount of the loss this year at $8 million. The individual cases run into the hundreds, and investigative agencies lack the training and resources to fully investigate what happened.

The banks have claimed that the thefts are being done by persons outside the institutions who somehow manage to steal the account information and passwords of customers. However, some cases raise the specter that the thefts were inside jobs. In one theft, the amount taken, $60,000, was 12 times the size of the bank's daily limit on transfers
In another, more than $20,000 vanished from an account just hours after the money was deposited.

The banks have been slow to respond. Banco de Costa Rica is putting in a second level of security as of today for its Internet customers. The $215,000 series of thefts happened in July. Banco Nacional has not yet taken any steps to provide additional security although it has issued warnings.

If the Sala III decision is read so as to apply for the massive Internet loses, the banks could be at risk for the actions of third parties, that is the Internet thieves. That is particularly true because another part of the same consumer law says that those in charge of a business are responsible for their own acts and the actions of their subordinates.

Villalobos friends want to get in their two cents for appeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The dwindling Villalobos faithful are calling for a letter-writing campaign to enlighten magistrates who will decide the appeal of convicted fraudster Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho.

These are the people who believe — despite strong evidence presented at trial earlier this year — that the Villalobos high-interest operator was not a ponzi scheme.

An e-mail message being distributed widely by the United and Concerned Citizens of Costa Rica asks former investors of the defunct operation to write letters to clear up misconceptions that the Sala III magistrates might have about Oswaldo Villalobos and his fugitive brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho.

"Our objective with this campaign is to try to reverse some of the misconceptions the judges might have about the two men: Osvaldo, who has sat in jail for practically 5 years, and Luis Enrique, who has been consistent in his ongoing communications with his creditors, the most recent just days ago," said the e-mail.  "His messages continue to demonstrate the quality of the man and his sincere intention to honor his commitments."

The United and Concerned Citizens did not have a role in the trial. Oswaldo Villalobos was the defendant and the victims were a number of Villalobos creditors who pressed their claims along with the prosecutor's criminal case.

However, the United and Concerned Citizens do not want any letters sent to the magistrate that suggest that they should uphold the aggravated fraud and illegal banking convictions. The Villalobos supporters want to see the letters before the magistrates do.

This is the same group that embarked on a campaign to cause victims in the case to withdraw their legal claims. Those who did withdraw claims were not awarded compensation by the trial court when the tribunal convicted Oswaldo Villalobos.

"We should remind the magistrates that there are many thousands of us who remained outside the formal legal arena, who continue to reject the false accusations of the
fiscal, and who support the innocence of both Osvaldo and Enrique Villalobos," said the letter.

The group has distributed yet another letter it says came from Luis Enrique Villalobos. This is about the ninth or 10th such communication purportedly from the fugitive financier. However, there has been no evidence that the letters actually came from him. Some seem to be rehashes of a known Villalobos letter and e-mail sent to A.M. Costa Rica five years ago after the two brothers closed down the operation that was headquartered in Mall San Pedro.

The Sala III magistrates will hold an open hearing Dec. 18 mainly to hear arguments from victims who had pressed their cases but had not been awarded money. In some cases the individuals' lawyers failed to show up or present the correct documents.

The defense team of Oswaldo Villalobos also has presented appeals in which they claim the original raid on the Villalobos operation July 4, 2002, was not supported by evidence and that judicial officials involved in the case did not follow the rules of evidence. However, in none of the pleadings does anyone suggest where could be found the estimated $1 billion that was on the books of the Villalobos when they closed down.

Some associated with the United and Concerned Citizens claim that Villalobos is willing to return the money to his former investors but that the possibility of criminal action keeps him from doing so.

There was no effort at the trial by Oswaldo Villalobos to explain what the brothers did with the money they got from investors. Oswaldo Villalobos tried to separate himself from the activities of his brother and claimed he was but the operator of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house that was physically nearby but apart financially. However, prosecutors showed that Oswaldo's company handled much of the money that investors gave to Luis Enrique and judges decided that he was a partner in the entire operation.

The operation paid 3 percent per month, frequently in cash, but made investment at standard investment-grade rates. Prosecutors said that Luis Enrique accepted some $200 million in the first nine months of 2002. The clientèle was heavily North American.

A mainstay at downtown establishments will be remembered Wednesday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

He was called Capt. Billy or Sailor Bill by the many expats and tourists who knew him in a vague fashion. The nickname was in deference to his time as a torpedoman in the U.S. 
Navy or the many years he served as a merchant seaman.

His real name was  William Einar Edlund, and he was 77 years old when he died last month in his rented apartment in Tibás.

Of the few who knew him well there were hundreds who knew him as the slender man with the captain's hat who always seemed a bit under the weather.
Sailor bill
William Einar Edlund
The expats who frequent the downtown San José bars knew him enough so that they will hold a memorial service in the place Sailor Bill considered a primary residence, the New York Bar on Calle 9. The rememberance will be Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Those who would dismiss Sailor Bill as a simple drunk
would be wrong. He was a man who did things, as in the Frank Sinatra song, "my way."

Robert Foster, another expat who was a friend of Capt. Billy for 23 years, said the man was well-read and knowledgeable.  The man was born on Cape Cod to a family of seafarers March 15, 1930. He served on the  submarine Trumpetfish as a torpedoman and elsewhere in the U.S. Navy for seven years and later sailed with merchant vessels. He had no children and never married, said Foster.

What Capt. Billy had was a schedule. He was to arrive at one of a handful of downtown bars before midday and drink beer until he felt the time had come to go home.

Then he would say goodbye to those nearby in a gravely voice that frequently was not easily understood. He avoided muggings by nearly always taking a taxi home and doing so early in the evening.

He smoked heavily.

He was envied by many tourists and expats who believed that they, too, would enjoy the freedom that Costa Rica gives, to spend their days grasping a cold beer, chain smoking and swapping stories with friends.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 244

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Children's hospital telethon makes its goal and then some
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This year's annual telethon for the Hospital Nacional de Niños announced the final total is 416 million colons or about $832,000. That amount exceeds the goal organizers set.

The telethon is a television event broadcasted on all the major Costa Rican channels. People collected money all over the country, including scouts and members of Rotary  International. The actual event and concerts were held at Palacio de los Deportes in Heredia.

The money raised from the telethon will go towards the construction of “Hospital de las Sonrisas,” a new section of the hospital. According to Hospital Nacional de Niños, the hospital has not undergone sufficient improvements in  emergency care since its construction in 1964. Infant
 mortality is a large problem in Costa Rica due largely to the car accidents and accidents in the home, said a report from the children's hospital.

The new building, says the hospital, will place Hospital Nacional de Niños among the top in child treatment facilities in the Americas. Top companies, diplomats and the people of Costa Rica are uniting to make this dream a reality says the hospital on their website.

Dozens of international and national artists performed this year at the telethon. Among them were Puerto Rican salsa legend Jerry Rivera, 8-year-old reggaeton sensation Miguelito and Panamanian star Roockie, among others.

Money raised from past telethons helped construct Centro de Especialidades Médicas and supplied children's hospitals around the country with modern equipment.

Our readers have their say on Iran and banking safety
Iran wants Israel to 'vanish'

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Jo Stuart needs to do a little more reading in current events.  She paints a picture of Iran as a fine, neighborly country, sounding as if worthy of admiration.   Their government was effectively an accomplice in the holding of the U.S. hostages for well over a year.  This is benign?   They actively sponsor and support the terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, providing financing, arms and advisers.  (And what about human rights?  Jo, try walking down the street in a skirt that is above your ankles, without a big head covering.  See what happens.
Jo mentions the pronouncement by the President of Iran, they wish Israel to "disappear" as if it is a fairy tale, just a sweep of a magic wand, Israel is gone, and all is well.  What they are talking about is massive bombing of a population of about 6 million people, Jews, Christians and Moslems alike. 

She implies that it is only rhetoric.  That's an approach reminiscent of Neville Chaimberlain's "peace in our time"... right? Hitler's talk was only rhetoric, too.  By the way, why, Jo, do you think that Iran wants to anihilate a soverign country and all of its inhabitants?  (Perhaps it is a bit ironic that this article appeared on Dec.7, Pearl Harbor Day, one on which one country committed the crime of attacking another without provocation.)
Regarding the benefits of having a state (official government) religion, her point that by having such the government can go about its daily life more easily makes no sense whatsoever.   Why can't a government behave the same way without giving one religion more privilege than another?   Why should the tax payments of all citizens, including, of course, non-Catholics be used to support Catholic churches?  It is simply unfair.  
Jo, you do a great job describing the trials, travails, and enjoyments of daily living in Costa Rica.  With all due respect, please stick to your day job.
Glen Love
Haverford, PA
and Dominical

We love your letters
even if you rip us up

Send us your letters, and we generally will publish them. But you can make it easier on us. Please keep them tight and on point.

The letters on this page are from 150 to 350 words. If you can't get your thoughts into 400 words, you should think about becoming a politician.

And we hope there will be discussions based on evidence and thought. Try to avoid personal attacks unless you are attacking the editor. He can take it. And he probably deserves it.

Persian Empire sought again

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Jo Stuart’s column about Iran may only be partially correct.  Modern day Iran may not be known for starting a war, although I do remember one with Iraq in modern history.  Extremely brutal from both sides.

Perhaps she has never heard of the Persian Empire and the conquest by the Persians of a major chunk of the then-known world.  It stretched from India to Africa.  They were not gentle with those who opposed their endeavor to conquer the world.  There are those leaders in modern day Iran who would love to duplicate and expand that early Empire.

I enjoy Jo’s column when she relates stories about Costa Rica and her daily adventures.  I love visiting Costa Rica and it’s wonderful people, so her writings keep me in touch.  I am not interested in her political views, as I see enough bias in the paper’s here in the United States.

Al Cavalier
Micanopy, Florida

BAC San José uses a clock!

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have several "accounts" (I think of them as one) with BAC San Jose.  I have had unlimited screwups with their Internet banking and was really pleased to be told by my BAC broker that a new system was being set up.  It is a really good, simple, and infinitely compatible idea (RARE!). 

They will RENT you a clock at $2 a month.  This clock will not plug into your computer, therefore it will work with ANY system that currently works.  Every 60 seconds the clock will show a different "random" number - technically a pseudo random number — which is your password for NOW.  You put in your "user name,"  a "password" assigned by the bank (that could be written down) PLUS the "password of the moment" which appears on your clock. 

I think that I have seen progress in security COMBINED with ease of use, a rare combination.  Explaining this was NOT simple — even tho the idea is as simple as dirt.  I would like to thank María Carolina Mora Castro for taking the time to assure me of how the system operates and to assure me that I will not loose ANY functionality. 

Unfortunately I will not GAIN any functionality either — transferring funds from your broker to "cash" (selling stock) or such will still require speaking to a broker, but, seeing that your orders have been executed will be at your fingertips without the need to remember your password.  I would like to put in a special thank you to María Carolina for something rare in Costa Rica — customer service.

Charlie Merritt
San Isidro de Alajuela

Venezuela adopts its own hour standard: Chávez saving time
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelans have set their clocks back half an hour as the country adopts its own time zone. Speaking ahead of Sunday time change, President Hugo Chávez told reporters that he doesn't care if people think he is crazy. He said the new time will go ahead anyway.

The Venezuelan leader has said the time change will give schoolchildren more daylight.
The change was first announced several weeks ago but had been delayed for technical reasons.

Clocks will be set to Universal Time (UTC) minus 4.5 hours. The change is likely to affect time/date entries on computers and other devices.

Several other countries have time zones that set them apart from other nations. They include Afghanistan, Burma, India and Iran.

Police await wife of resurrected British canoeist to amplify tale of 'death'
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

British police have filed fraud charges against a man who faked his death in a canoe five years ago to collect insurance money. Meanwhile, his wife is reported to be returning from Panamá to England.

Police in northeast England Saturday charged John Darwin with an elaborate deception to clear his family of debt. The father of two has been in detention since last week when he entered a police station saying he did not remember anything of the past several years.

Darwin was declared dead after failing to return from a
 2002 canoeing trip. His wife, Ann, received his life insurance money. After Darwin re-emerged last week, she told reporters he returned home about three years ago and continued to live with her secretly.

The pair were photographed at a hotel in Panamá during that period, and the photo was placed on a tour company's Web site.

Ann Darwin was living in Panama when her husband turned himself in.  Her confession was published Saturday in British tabloid newspapers. She says when her husband staged his death, they both had full-time jobs, but were experiencing mounting debts with investment properties.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 244

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