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(506) 223-1327              Published Monday, July 9, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 134          E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Notaries are told to spill beans on buyers and sellers
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Notaries who handle property transactions have been told that they must register and provide reports to the nation's financial watchdog. The order means that information about purchasers and sellers will be more widely available.

Resolution number 814-2007 of the Notary Directorate, published June 22, advises that all notaries dealing in financial transactions must register with the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras.  This includes, but is not limited to, purchase and sale contracts, mortgages, liens, and trusts.

This institution is the one that is suppose to oversee financial organizations.  It is the one that is getting so much flak for not doing its job with regards to the Brothers Villalobos, the collapsed Banco Elca, among others.

This news is bad for expats buying property in Costa Rica and trying to hide the transaction from their home country’s tax authorities.  This mandate means notaries will need to register as any bank or financial house would and turn in all their paperwork regarding financial transactions — with names, addresses and phone numbers — for review and entry into a data base.

They also will have to fill out those “know your customer” forms that financial institutions now fill out.  “Know your customer” is a code name for getting financial information from people based on international agreements.

This further means peoples lives will be more of an open book for everyone else’s snooping pleasure.

This announcement is clearly a reaction to the events of the times and the country’s efforts to control financial transactions so it can get a piece of each pie.

But a call to the Superintendencia's office by a public notary seeking to sign up as ordered by the official notice in the Boletin Judicial met with a surprising result.  The official on the other end of the phone knew nothing about the published resolution from the notary directorate.  His response was “They did what? The notice says what? Do you have a copy?” 

The notary sent a copy of the resolution to the superintendent’s office and followed up with a phone call.   In the follow-up call, the official stated that office did not know about the published announcement and that it did not make sense.  In theory, notaries do not handle money they just record events.  The governmental office is concerned with entities that actually handle money based on Article 15 of Law 8204, which is a law to control drug trafficking and money laundering.
notary notice

The Superintendencia General originally was part of the Banco Central de Costa Rica and was a bank audit department.  In November 1995, the department turned into what it is today.  Its mandate is to guarantee transparency, bolster fiscal strength and promote financial development of the country.

In fact, many notaries do handle money.  They use their personal accounts as escrow accounts in financial transactions, and they do no reporting to anyone.  They even earn interest on the funds, which is a big no-no in other parts of the world where bona fide escrow accounts cannot earn interest.

A very few notaries actually do sign up with the banking authority through an L.L.C. or S.A. corporation created for the sole purpose of being an escrow agent. They have their clients fill out “know your customer” forms.

Who is right?  Do notaries need to sign up or not?  Well, the official at the financial watchdog’s office said maybe his office  better get a meeting with the notary directorate and discuss the dilemma. 

This delay probably is good for everyone because it lets them get the financial house in order before the country begins to track all financial transactions very closely. 

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  Copyright 2004-2007, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 9, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 134

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Peace with nature plan
includes carbon surcharge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez announced his peace with nature initiative, and part of the proposal appears to be an international surcharge on carbon dioxide emissions.

The proposals had been designed by more than a dozen committees and involved more than 150 persons.

The outline was given Friday at the Teatro Nacional.

Under the plan the government promises to reach carbon neutrality by 2021. That means that the plants and vegetation of Costa Rica will absorb at least as much carbon dioxide as the country generates.

Arias also promised an obligatory environmental management plan for state institutions, an increase in the forest cover and extensive promotion of sustainable environmental activities in educational institutions.

Internationally, the plan promises that Costa Rica will be an international leader in the carbon neutral network. The country has an advantage in that much of its electrical power is generated from hydro and geothermal sources. However, Costa Rica also has active volcanoes, too, which put large quantities of carbon dioxide and sulfur into the air.

The international project includes a system of offsetting deforestation. And there will be an attempt to cash in on carbon dioxide emissions elsewhere by exchanging the carbon debt, said the plan.

And the proposal also promotes the proposal identified with chemist Mario Molina who suggested in 1995 levying a surcharge on carbon emissions, said the proposal.  Molina, a Mexican national, shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for his work on chlorofluorocarbon gases and their effect on the atmosphere. As a result of his studies, laws were passed prohibiting the use of such gases in spray cans and similar machinery.

Former president Abel Pacheco also launched a peace with nature campaign but he incorporated it into a handful of amendments to the Costa Rican Constitution that remained buried in the Asamblea Legislativa.

Young Tico back home
in flight from sex charge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 16-year-old Costa Rican boy has returned from the United States in flight from two sex assault charges, according to a law officer in Lincoln County, North Carolina.

The boy is Paul López, who was visiting relatives in the United States on a visa, said Don Mauldin, a detective with the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. The detective said that when the boy's father, also a legal U.S. resident, found out about the crime he sent his son back to Costa Rica.

The victim was a 4-year-old, said the detective. He said that a formal charge alleging two counts of forcible sex has been filed against the boy.

However, he said, in conversations with employees at the U.S. Embassy here he learned that Costa Rica will not extradict its own citizens, so there is little law officers can do.

The detective said he became aware of the incident when the parents of the 4-year-old brought the child for treatment and medical personnel made a report.

The detective expressed concern about what the 16-year-old suspect might do in Costa Rica. However, he had no further locational information.

More than a dozen suspects of major crimes are living in Costa Rica because they cannot be extradicted to other countries. The prohibition against forcing a citizen to leave the country is contained in the Costa Rican Constitution.

Investigators get office
in Monteverde for region

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a new office for the Judicial Investigating Organization in Monteverde.

Esteban Jiménez, the agent in charge, said that the purpose of the office is to let residents file their complaints without traveling two hours to Puntarenas.

The office will handle complaints from Sardinal, Acapulco, Lagarto, Tilarán, and Juntas de Abangares, he said.

Officials suggested that even in Monteverde crime problems were growing.

Aunt blamed in break in

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An 18-year-old former domestic employee returned with two young relatives to burglarize the home where she worked, according to the Fuerza Pública.

The woman who has the last names of Madrigal Vargas brought along two nephews, 13 and 11, said officers. The home was in Barrio Corazón de Jesus, and police said they were alerted by a telephone call. The suspects carried bags containing appliances and other goods in the house, officers said.

Access was gained by cutting the bars of the porton, said police.

Volunteers sought for bird count

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Wak Ka Koneke Association on the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve in Talamanca is seeking volunteers for a raptor migration count at the end of August. Observations are made from a 10-meter (about 33 feet) tower built at the reserve, which is 210 meters (670 feet) above sea level with a 360-degree view over the flyway area, the association said.   More information is available HERE. A volunteer fee is charged.

Agents encounter new form of drug

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization has encountered synthetic cocaine in a series of raids that resulted in the capture of eight persons last week. The synthetic substance, called queso, Spanish for cheese, has a cocaine base with amphetamines and barbiturates. The new drug will be analyzed by the agency's lab, investigators said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 9, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 134

Puerto Limon Agency

Swollen river takes lives of five vacationers near San Ramón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tragedies from heavy rains continued Sunday as five vacationers died while trying to cross the Río San Lorenzo near San Ramón.

Four of the five have been identified as Naranjo residents, a father, mother and two sons. The fifth person has not been identified.

The deaths happened about 5 p.m. when the family in the company with other vacationers tried to cross the river and were swept away by a wall of water, said a spokesman for the Cruz Roja.

Although Sunday was not particularly rainy in Costa Rica, water levels are high because of the intense downpours at the end of the week. Local thunderstorms can have significant effects on waterways because the ground is too saturated to hold more water.

This week is the second of public school midyear vacations, so many Costa Rican families are on vacation away from home.

The downpours hit the northern zone hard. A red alert has been declared there in preparation of an emergency decree. Officials said that more than 100 bridges had been damaged. More than 50 stretches of highway also suffered damage, officials said.
Jorge Méndez Zamora, a national deputy, said Friday that the damage in the area caused by the July 5 and subsequent storms was the worst in 20 years and that officials in  Pococí y Guácimo were pushing for an emergency declaration.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is likely to do so today. This would free up government money for the area.

The  Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias was far more pessimistic. It said that the cantons of Guatuso, Los Chiles, Upala, San Carlos, Sarapiquí, Pococí, Guácimo, Siquirres and Matina suffered heavily. Some 3,000 homes had been flooded or damaged and some 300 had been destroyed.

At last count some 200 persons were living in government shelters. The commission said it had brought 17 tons of food and supplies to the area and estimated that more than 3,000 persons had been affected directly.

Also at risk was the central Pacific where another alert was declared by the commission over the weekend. However, there were no reports of heavy damage there although local heavy rains were reported. Rains also were reported in the south in the area of Coto Brus and the Panama border.

The bad news was that weather predictions called for more rain today in the north. Afternoon thunderstorms were predicted for the Central Valley and the central Pacific.

There is another side to the state of continual quarrels
Los que se pelean, se desean

“Those who fight also yearn.” This dicho has to do with people who like to quarrel and squabble. The meaning is that though they’re always quarreling they actually love each other. Sometimes I think it is hard to see the reality of this, but then I recall, for example, that in my youth I maintained a state of continuous warfare with my older brother. Later in life he became my closest friend.

Sometimes it behooves us to examine our relationships and see who we’re at odds with and why and if there might be something else going on besides just pure malice.

It is hard to understand why people we like sometimes disappoint us. At such times we may feel embarrassed or even betrayed.

Occasionally I have been on the receiving end of such emotions because of my work with Amnesty International when I have to deal with government officials from around the world. For example, when Amnesty sends out its reports of human rights abuses, I usually have to write a letter and call the embassies from Honduras, Panamá and Costa Rica to let them know that our report is on its way to them. They are usually very cordial and friendly, and thank me. A few weeks later, however, when I make a follow-up call to see if they have received and read the report, they are often quite cold and there’s a distinct note of betrayal in their voices because Amnesty has pointed out human rights abuses that have occurred in their countries.

One area that los que se pelean se desean does not apply to is domestic violence. Violence of any kind is not what this dicho is really all about. A person who continually physically and/or verbally abuses members of his or her family is mentally and emotionally unbalanced and should seek professional counseling. 

Other forms of violence that regularly take place in Costa Rica, like street crime, robberies and assaults with firearms are things the government could be doing a lot more about than it is. But, like a plethora of other domestic issues, the government’s obligation to protect citizens from violence has fallen victim to the current regime’s total preoccupation with ratifying the free trade agreement with the United States.

Violence can appear in somewhat subtler guises as well. Take for example the not infrequent situation where people in the U.S. get sick and can’t afford medical attention. This to me is a form of violence to be sure.

A few weeks ago I was suffering chest pain. I called my doctor and was instructed to go immediately to the

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

emergency room of our local hospital. Fortunately there was nothing seriously wrong, and I was released after a few tests and about five hours of observation, though I did undergo some additional tests a few days later. But when I saw the bills I was simply floored. There were nearly $2,000 in charges that my so-called health insurance would not cover! This was in addition to the costs insurance did pay. How do the millions of Americans with no insurance whatsoever manage I wondered? The answer is, obviously, they simply do not seek medical attention for often potentially life-threatening conditions.

This got me thinking, of course, about what is going to happen in Costa Rica after CAFTA (the U.S. trade agreement) is finally put into effect. Will we end up importing what is essentially a broken health care system from The United States? Though there are many problems with La Caja (Costa Rica’s universal health care system that has been in place here for nearly 60 years), still at least it establishes minimum health care standards from which no one can be excluded regardless of economic status. Is Costa Rica ready to jettison its admittedly rather unwieldy system for one run through private insurance that only a privileged few will be able to afford? This sounds a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water, in my view.

We should proceed cautiously. México, which already has a similar agreement with the U.S., is now facing a health-care disaster looming in 2008 when millions of its citizens may well lose their state-sponsored health care coverage. These middle and lower class Mexicans could well be forced into a privatized system that most will not be able to afford. Also, in México, the cost of prescription medication has skyrocketed since the agreement with the U.S. was signed several years ago.

Though Costa Ricans may often be at odds with La Caja, we may not know how much we love it until it’s gone: Lo que pelean se desean.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 9, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 134

Bush administration offers cash, conference to Latin nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Bush administration is making more overtures to Latin America.

Friday Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. said that the United States will join with the International Finance Corp., the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, to create a $17.5 million program to catalyze private investment in infrastructure in Latin America.

Today President and Mrs. George Bush are meeting with government and non-government representatives from the area in what is called the White House Conference on the Americas. President Bush said March 5 in a speech that the most important ties with the area were not between governments but people-to-people contacts, including those from faith-based organizations.

Thomas A. Shannon, assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, outlined the goals of the conference Friday in Washington. He said that the United States had invited organizations mostly through the advice of the U.S. embassies in each country. The vent will be in Arlington, Virginia.       

The topics will include investing in education,
strengthening healthcare, expanding economic opportunity at the grassroots level, and building public-private partnerships, said Shannon. "It will look at how we, as a country, government, private sector, and ordinary citizens work together with our neighbors to better their lives and advance the cause of social justice in the Americas," he said according to a transcript of his meeting with reporters.

Representatives of  approximately 150 regional-based organizations and approximately 70 U.S.-based groups have been invited to attend the event, he said. Shannon said that  for every dollar in U.S. aid there is at least four dollars coming into the area from private resources. He said that every Western Hemisphere country except Cuba had been invited.                                 

Paulson in his announcement said that the Americas face a serious constraint to economic growth, lack of critical infrastructure. Latin America, for example, currently spends less than 2 percent of gross domestic product on infrastructure annually, he said. Underinvestment in electricity, transport, and potable water hamstring the region's entrepreneurs and citizens, he added.

The new initiative will attack the information, technical capacity, and regulatory barriers which block the flow of private finance, he said.

Article attributed to Castro adds details to 1961 death plot fostered by C.I.A.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has published an essay that includes comments about what he says was a U.S. attempt to assassinate him in 1961.

In an article published Sunday in a Cuban Communist youth newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, Castro said an assassin sent to poison him did not succeed because he could not get close enough.

Castro said he survived many assassination plots. He said he and others in the revolutionary movement survived because of luck and the habit of observing details.
Last month, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency declassified hundreds of pages of documents. Among the information released were details of an agency attempt to plant poison pills in Castro's food.

Castro has not been seen in public since he underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July of last year. But in recent months, several newspaper articles have been published in his name.

At the time of his surgery, he temporarily handed control of Cuba to his brother, Raul. In a television interview earlier last month, Castro did not say whether he plans to resume day-to-day control of the government.

U.S. coal company faces trial today over allegation it killed union members
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. coal company Drummond will go on trial Monday, facing charges it ordered the killing of three union leaders at its coal mine in northern Colombia.

The lawsuit alleges that Drummond's top Colombian executive paid right-wing paramilitaries to kill the men in 2001.  The company denies the charges. The civil trial will be held in Drummond's home state of Alabama.
Human rights activists say the practice of paying protection money to right-wing militias is common among multinationals operating in Colombia.

Earlier this year, U.S. banana company Chiquita admitted it paid $1.7 million in protection money to Colombian paramilitaries from 1997 to 2004.

In June, the company paid out $25 million as part of a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors.

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